Sen. Jeanne Shaheen discusses the opioid crisis on the Axios stage. Photo: Chuck Kennedy for Axios

The big picture: Thursday morning, Axios' Health Care Editor Sam Baker hosted a 4-part conversation on the future of pain management including policy changes, investment in new research and expanded access to non-opioid choices.

Representative David B. McKinley, West Virginia
Rep. David B. McKinley in conversation with Axios' Sam Baker. Photo: Chuck Kennedy for Axios

Rep. David B. McKinley (R-Wv.) discussed the impact of opioid addiction on his constituents and his frustration that the pharmaceutical industry was not being held accountable for their role in the unfolding crisis.

  • On drug makers: "When you have 200-300 pills per person for a person living in Mingo, WV, come on...They had to have known that was an excessive amount."
  • On the slow pace of legislative progress: "The frustration I have is 7 months into the 116th Congress under Pelosi, we've only had one hearing (about the opioid crisis)."

Drawing direct comparisons to European countries, he highlighted their significantly lower opioid-related overdose rates and willingness to use non-opioid courses of pain management.

  • On the need for sustained commitment: "We can't just throw money at [the opioid crisis] and expect it to go away."
Senator Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-Nh.) agreed with Rep. McKinley on the need for holding the pharmaceutical industry accountable, and the interconnections between opioid addiction and other substances.

  • On the need for a flexible approach: "What we've got to do is refocus Congress on the fact that we have not overcome this epidemic...It's evolved in a way where our approach needs to change. Our programs have to be flexible enough to address the other problems [with other substances] we're seeing."
  • On the stigma around addiction: "This is not a moral failing...this is a physical condition and we need to treat it that way."

She underscored the importance of the Affordable Care Act in maintaining current treatment programs.

  • "If [the ACA] goes away, there's no affordable alternative to treatment."
Dr. Marian Sherman, Director of Clinical Operations, Acute Pain Service Faculty, George Washington University Hospital
Dr. Marian Sherman discusses a variety of pain therapies on the Axios stage. Photo: Chuck Kennedy for Axios

Anesthesiologist and Director of Clinical Operations of Acute Pain Service Faculty at George Washington University Hospital, Dr. Marian Sherman unpacked the role of opioids in a medical setting and focused on the dangers of using it as a monotherapy.

  • On layering other types of medications: "We're using different types of medications to target different types of pain...We begin with acetaminophen and drugs like Ibuprofen and Motrin before thinking about layering on opioids."
  • On the importance of short-course therapies: "We need to educate surgeons and other prescription writers to ensure that patients are only on a short course of opioids...Opioids as a monotherapy is not a good choice medically and clinically."
Admiral Brett Giroir, Health and Senior Adviser, Opioid Policy, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Admiral Brett Giroir answers a question about progress being made in addressing the opioid crisis. Photo: Chuck Kennedy for Axios

Admiral Brett Giroir, Health and Senior Adviser on Opioid Policy at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, focused on the evolution of the opioid crisis and the progress being made thus far.

On the relationship between opioid addiction and fentanyl: "Prescription opioid deaths are down...and we're starting to get control over fentanyl overdoses as well. If we can treat opioid use, then we can impact the fentanyl crisis."

On making the system work for everyone: "We need to transition to a sustainable framework of care...[An important component of that] is to understand how to better reimburse people for treatment."

On the social determinants of health: "We have to deal with the underlying issues that make us all prone to this...Prescribing opioids is not an ideal solution, but we have to deal with people who have chronic, unremitting pain to deal with their quality of life."

Thank you Voices for Non-Opioid Choices for sponsoring this event.

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