Missouri’s VA Medical Centers Reduced Opioid Prescriptions—McCaskill Applauds Efforts, Seeks Additional Details

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, who is currently leading the largest Congressional investigation to date into the opioid epidemic, is praising efforts by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Centers in Missouri after a recent VA report showed a 39% average decrease in opioid prescribing at the Missouri facilities between 2012-2017. McCaskill is also seeking additional details about decreasing opioid use within the VA healthcare system nationally.

“Missouri’s VA facilities are setting an example for the rest of our state and our country on how to cut down on unnecessary opioid prescriptions,” McCaskill said. “As we’ve seen during the course of my investigation into opioid manufacturers, our sky-high prescription rates came in the aftermath of targeted marketing campaigns and minimizing the risks of addiction—it’s great to see the VA start to reverse a decades-long trend of increased use.”

A VA report released earlier this year analyzed opioid prescribing data at VA Medical Centers as a part of their Opioid Safety Initiative. At Missouri’s four VA Medical Centers, opioid prescribing rates decreased on average by 39%. “While there are innumerable challenges in addressing [the opioid] epidemic, there has been measurable progress within the VA healthcare system,” McCaskill wrote in a letter to VA Secretary David Shulkin.

McCaskill requested details on what the VA will do to “build on the initial success of the Opioid Safety Initiative and continue the decrease in opioid prescribing rates.” She also asked about the VA’s opioid prescribing guidelines and its efforts to share lessons from its initiative with the private sector.

McCaskill last year launched her investigation into opioid manufacturers—the most comprehensive Congressional investigation into the crisis to date—when she requested information related to sales and marketing materials, internal addiction studies, details on compliance with government settlements and donations to third party advocacy groups from major opioid manufacturers. She expanded her investigation, requesting documents and information from opioid manufacturers Mallinckrodt, Endo, Teva, and Allergan, while a request to McKesson Corporation, AmerisourceBergen Corporation, and Cardinal Health, Inc., focused on their distribution of opioid products. In September, McCaskill announced the first round of findings, detailing systemic manipulation of the prior authorization process by Insys Therapeutics.

McCaskill’s latest report, issued earlier this year, describes how manufacturers of opioids have made significant financial investments into third party organizations—groups which in turn have often engaged in pro-opioid advocacy. McCaskill is currently working on legislation to strengthen the Drug Enforcement Administration’s opioid enforcement abilities. After media reports indicated that the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act of 2016 had dramatically restricted DEA’s ability to crack down on opioid distributors suspected of wrongdoing, McCaskill introduced a bill to repeal the law, and she led a Senate roundtable on her bill.

Read McCaskill’s letter to the VA HERE.