Alexander: Most Helpful Federal Role in Opioid Fight May Be Supporting “Amazing Potential” of Technology

Posted on February 27, 2018

“Data can paint a more complete picture of the opioid crisis, revealing which communities are seeing a spike in prescriptions, helping doctors avoid prescribing opioids to someone recovering from addiction, and recording the last time someone who overdosed had filled a prescription.” 

WASHINGTON, February 27, 2018 — Senate health committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today said the federal government’s most helpful role in the opioid fight may be supporting data and technology.  

“As we’ve examined the opioid crisis over the last five months, we’ve learned that strong local communities are key to finding solutions and Washington’s role is to support those efforts. When we look at what the federal government can do, sharing more data and utilizing new technologies may be the most helpful thing that we do. As we consider new legislation, I want to hear specific suggestions about how the federal government can help states and local communities take full advantage of the amazing potential that technology has to offer in solving the opioid crisis.”

This committee today held its fifth hearing this Congress on opioid crisis to look at the role technology and data play in responding to the crisis.

“Data can paint a more complete picture of the opioid crisis, revealing which communities are seeing a spike in prescriptions, helping doctors avoid prescribing opioids to someone recovering from addiction, and recording the last time someone who overdosed had filled a prescription,” said Alexander. “Quality data gives everyone the ability to make informed decisions about how best to address the opioid crisis.”

Alexander continued: “For state and local governments, that means having Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs – the databases that track controlled substance prescriptions so state officials can see what is happening at the community level and doctors and pharmacists can check a patient’s history with controlled substances before writing or filling a prescription – that are easy to use. For Tennessee, this has proved to be an invaluable tool. Between 2015-2017, the number of prescriptions written for opioids has decreased by 14 percent in Tennessee. The Tennessee Department of Health attributes those decreases to doctors and pharmacists using the PDMP more.”

“And for individual doctors, nurses, and patients, data can mean helping prevent more people from sliding down the slope of addiction. For example, if a patient wants their doctors to know about a past opioid addiction, that should be clearly marked in their electronic health record. We need electronic health records that doctors are able to use and patients are able to access for this to be successful.”

“As we consider new legislation, I want to hear specific suggestions about how the federal government can help states and local communities take full advantage of the potential that technology has to offer in solving the opioid crisis. For example, how can the federal government encourage states to share more data from their Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs? For example, someone may visit a doctor in Obion County who writes them a prescription for 30 Oxycodone and then they could cross into Missouri to visit another doctor who writes another prescription for 30 more. If states aren’t sharing data, there’s no way anyone can track this ‘doctor shopping’ to prevent it.”

“As we explore these new and useful tools, I would caution us to consider everyone’s privacy. Addiction can impact every aspect of a person’s life, from their ability to find a job and housing and keep custody of their child, so we need to ensure that whatever action we take, people’s privacy is protected.”

On October 5, 2017 the committee held the first hearing of the series which focused on the federal response to the opioid crisis, and on November 30, 2017 the committee heard from witnesses representing states, communities, and providers on what they are doing and what, if any, new authorities they need from the federal government to fight the crisis. On January 9, 2018, the committee heard from author Sam Quinones, who has extensively researched and written about the opioid crisis. On February 8, 2018, the committee held a hearing to look the effects the opioid crisis has on children and families.

At the February 8 hearing, Alexander said, “Before we turn to today’s focus, I wanted to say that later today, I, along with Ranking Member Murray, and Senators Young and Hassan, will introduce legislation to help address the opioid crisis. The committee plans to hold a markup on this bill, as well as other opioids legislation, as soon as the end of March.”

See Alexander’s full prepared remarks here