Legislation proposed to help veterans addicted to painkillers, heroin

WASHINGTON — A bill pending in the U.S. Senate could create better treatment options for veterans addicted to painkillers.

The legislation supported by U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, would increase the standards for prescribing opioid-based painkillers at Department of Veterans Affairs clinics and increase education and alternative treatment programs.

It also would offer help to those addicted to opioids, Brown said.

“It’s been an increasing problem for a number of years now,” Brown said.

The bill, titled the Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Safety Act, is named after a U.S. Marine veteran who died in a Veterans Affairs facility in Wisconsin two years ago and who encountered problems with painkillers, Brown said.

There are many veterans who risked their lives for the country and returned home from war injured and in severe pain, Brown said.

This legislation, which Brown said has support from both parties, will help veterans with addictions to painkillers and who have problems managing pain.

Brown said opioid addiction and heroin addiction are a big problem in smaller towns across the state. He said the problem has really taken off in the past five years.

Many people with addictions to pain killers turn to heroin when they have trouble getting prescription painkillers.

Brown said the legislation also would allow qualified nurse practitioners and physician assistants to provide treatment. The bill does not cover addictions to other drugs such as marijuana or to alcohol, he said.

There were 2,110 fatal overdoses in Ohio in 2013. Veterans are twice as likely to die of accidental prescription drug abuse when compared with patients outside the VA health system, Brown said.

Under current law, doctors must meet specific conditions and apply for a special waiver to prescribe certain opioid addiction medicines. They also are restricted to treating more than 30 patients in their first year and are limited to treating 100 patients per year in each year that follows, Brown said.

Brown said there has been 57 unintended drug overdose deaths in Allen County between 2008 and 2013. That number is 20 for Auglaize County and eight in Putnam County, Brown said.

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