Remarks of the American Society of Addiction Medicine, delivered by Dr. Gerald Marti

Good afternoon. My name is Dr. Gerald Marti and I’m here today on behalf of the American Society of Addiction Medicine, our nation’s oldest and largest organization of physicians specializing in the treatment of addiction.

We are pleased to offer our strong support for the Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Safety Act and want to thank Senators Baldwin and Capito for their bipartisan leadership on this critically important issue affecting our nation and, in particular, our veterans.
As a practicing addiction specialist, I have seen the devastation that this disease can cause, and my colleagues and I know far too many families like the Simcakoskis who have lost loved ones, many at the prime of their lives.

Unfortunately, the epidemic of opioid addiction we are now facing has in many ways been spurred and exacerbated by our own health care system. Health care providers often don’t receive adequate training in pain management or the identification and treatment of substance use disorders. Because of this, they too often rely on opioid therapy when other options are available to treat pain, and we too often miss the signs and symptoms of addiction or simply don’t know how to help patients with addiction.

This bill goes a long way to improving opioid prescribing practices at VA hospitals and clinics, which is a crucial component of a comprehensive effort to stem the epidemic of opioid addiction and overdose deaths in the U.S. Specifically, we applaud the legislation for:
Requiring stronger opioid prescribing guidelines and education for VA prescribers, which will help ensure our veterans are receiving evidence-based, safe and compassionate care;
Increasing coordination and communication throughout the VA with medical facilities, providers, patients and their families around pain management, alternative treatments for chronic pain and appropriate opioid therapy; and
Increasing access to opioid antagonists, which can counter the effects of opioid overdoses and save lives.

ASAM has long been a supporter of mandatory education for prescribers of controlled substances, and offers several educational opportunities for health care providers to learn more about safe opioid prescribing. I’m one of several ASAM faculty members who teach an FDA-mandated Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS) course for safe use of extended-release, long-acting opioids, and I’ve seen firsthand the difference this education can make in patient care. Importantly, this course also emphasizes the prevention of addiction and diversion, and the identification and treatment of substance use disorders, educational components we were pleased to see included in this legislation. As we all know, the issues involving opioids that the VA is struggling with are the same issues that our nation is facing at large. We hope that the lessons learned and improvements made to veterans’ care through the Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Safety Act can eventually be translated to the broader population.

Our veterans have given so much in service to our country, and they deserve the best health care we can offer in return. That includes ensuring our brave men and women have access to high-quality, safe and compassionate pain management and addiction treatment, and this legislation will help make that happen.

ASAM would like to thank Senators Baldwin and Capito again, and offer our condolences to the Simcakoski family. We look forward to working with the Senators and other allies to ensure the swift passage of this important bill.

Thank you.