Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly pressed the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) on VA’s current prescription practices and guidelines for controlled substances. In a letter sent to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Bob McDonald today, Donnelly asked about steps at the federal level to address prescribing practices and how increased training for prescribers can help Indiana address its opioid addition crisis. Following the recent Drug Enforcement Administration’s inspection of the Marion, Indiana Veteran Affairs Medical Center, Donnelly asked a number of questions about the VA’s efforts related to prescribing opioids to veterans. Among Donnelly’s questions, he asked about how the VA ensures patient safety and whether complaints have been received about opioid prescribing practices in Indiana, and if so what actions have been taken to address them.
Donnelly wrote, in part:
“I am deeply concerned about the epidemic of opioid addiction and overdose death that is devastating families both in Indiana and across the country. In light of the Drug Enforcement Administration’ inspection of Marion, Indiana Veteran Affairs Medical Center, I am particularly interested in the VA’s efforts to ensure that all of its prescribers comply with the Controlled Substances Act requirements and are using evidence based practices for prescribing controlled substances.
“Addiction, especially the recent increase in prescription drug abuse and heroin use, impacts Hoosiers in all corners of our state from our largest cities to rural communities. As Senator, I have met with too many families who are struggling to find appropriate treatment services for a loved one in need. The epidemic has touched our children, adults, and even our veterans. While there is no easy solution, there are steps that we can take to enhance our prevention efforts so that fewer families will suffer from addiction or the untimely death of a loved one.”
For nearly two years, Donnelly has been working to combat the opioid abuse and heroin use epidemics in Indiana and across the country, by listening to Hoosiers, introducing bipartisan legislation, partnering with federal, state, and local officials, and bringing together stakeholders. He reintroduced the bipartisan Heroin and Prescription Opioid Abuse Prevention, Education, and Enforcement Act with Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) in April. Their bill would take a multi-pronged approach to help prevent opioid abuse and heroin use. Earlier this year, Senator Donnelly and U.S. Representative Susan Brooks (IN-05) hosted a bipartisan roundtable discussion at IUPUI with Indiana and federal health officials, doctors, and pharmacists to hear directly from Hoosiers about best practices to help curb the opioid-abuse epidemic. Donnelly made recommendations in a letter to the Governor’s Drug Task Force, providing suggestions for short- and long-term responses to Indiana’s addiction problems. In addition to offering specific suggestions to the Task Force, Donnelly emphasized that any strategy to address addiction in Indiana will require the State to not only identify necessary policy changes, but also make a commitment to implementing and funding those changes moving forward.
Both state and federal officials are acting on some of the bipartisan policies Donnelly has advocated for, including improving prescribing practices and enhancing prescriber engagement, raising public awareness of the dangers of prescription drug abuse and heroin use, and better utilizing prescription drug monitoring programs at the state level.