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Statement of The Hospital & Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania

For the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance Subcommittee on Health Care

Submitted by
Michael J. Consuelos, MD, Senior Vice President for Clinical Integration 

“Examining Heroin and Opiate Abuse in Southwestern Pennsylvania”

October 15, 2015

Chairman Toomey, Ranking Member Stabenow and members of the Subcommittee, my name is Michael J. Consuelos, MD, and I am the senior vice president for clinical integration for The Hospital & Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania (HAP). HAP represents and advocates for the nearly 240 acute and specialty care hospitals and health systems across the state. 

We appreciate the opportunity to describe how HAP and Pennsylvania hospitals are working to reduce opioid addiction and opioid-related deaths.

Opioid abuse is a terrible problem in Pennsylvania and only coordinated efforts across sectors of public and private stakeholders can increase the chance of stemming what has become a public health epidemic. During 2014, in the state of Pennsylvania, approximately 2,500 people died from drug overdoses, more than double the 1,200 people who died from motor vehicle accidents.

HAP has joined the Pennsylvania Medical Society, the Pennsylvania Department of Health, the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP), and other stakeholders on the Safe and Effective Prescribing Practices and Pain Management Task Force.

This task force has prepared three guidelines for providers who regularly prescribe opiate pain medications. These include prescribing guidelines for:

  • Emergency departments
  • Dental practices
  • The treatment of chronic non-cancer pain

We are now working on guidelines for geriatric patients and obstetrical patients.

The task force also is collaborating on providing professional continuing education programs for physicians, nurses, and pharmacists. This important education supports the written prescribing guidelines and promulgates the use of naloxone under Pennsylvania Act 139. Act 139 provides liability protections for first responders administering life-saving opioid-reversal medication.

Individual hospitals are assessing the impact of opioid dependency and related deaths in the communities they serve. Many are identifying opioid abuse as a major community health issue as they develop their most recent Community Health Needs Assessments.

Emergency departments are seeing a growing number of opioid overdoses and working closely with local emergency medical services personnel and police on the proper use of naloxone by first responders.

Lastly, the HAP Behavioral Health Task Force is evaluating Pennsylvania’s existing laws, policies, and regulations addressing the treatment of drug abuse.

Hospitals primarily rely on DDAP and county treatment and prevention programs. Better alignment between medical and behavioral health regulations can provide better transitions to, and adherence with, treatment services.

This activity is just a start and requires sustained support and additional resources to truly make an impact on this public health problem. HAP supports the following:

  • Implementation of Pennsylvania’s Achieving Better Care by Monitoring All Prescriptions (ABC-MAP) Prescription Drug Monitoring Program to improve safe prescribing practices and identification of drug-seeking patients so they can receive the proper treatment.
  • Federal legislation, such as S. 480, the National All-Schedules Prescription Electronic Reporting (NASPER) Reauthorization Act of 2015, introduced by Senators Shaheen (D-NH) and Toomey (R-PA), could support Pennsylvania in implementing ABC-MAP. Importantly, NASPER goes beyond providing grant support to states to establish prescription drug monitoring programs, but also ensures interoperability between state monitoring programs and within health information technology systems.
  • Increasing the use of naloxone, and supporting the development and distribution of the life-saving drug, to help reduce the number of deaths associated with prescription opioid and heroin overdose. S. 707, the Opioid Overdose Reduction Act, would expand important liability protections for the emergency administration of an opioid overdose drug.
  • Expanding the use of Medication-Assisted Treatment, a comprehensive way to address the needs of individuals, which combines the use of medication with counseling and behavioral therapies to treat substance use disorders.
  • Proliferating drug take-back programs, which provide safe and efficient means to destroy prescribed pain medications, thereby removing them from the streets.
  • Assessment and evaluation of prenatal opioid abuse and neonatal abstinence syndrome, as outlined in S. 799, the Protecting Our Infants Act, introduced by Senators McConnell (R-KY) and Casey (D-PA), will initiate positive steps to decrease the number of infants suffering from opioid dependency.

In conclusion, HAP and Pennsylvania hospitals are working diligently with other stakeholders to address the epidemic of opioid abuse and overdose deaths. This good work requires continued support and collaboration to fully make an impact on the future health and well-being of Pennsylvanians.

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