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Establishing Pain Management Best Practices Inter-Agency Task Force

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. WELCH. Mr. Chair, on January 8, 2014, an extraordinary thing happened in Vermont. Our Governor, Peter Shumlin, giving a State of the State Address, devoted its entirety to the opioid epidemic in Vermont. I remember how stunned people were that a Governor would take such a difficult topic and spend his entire address on it. I remember the reaction of many of my colleagues here, who said: Peter, isn't that dangerous? You are talking about something that is not great for the reputation of the State.

What, in fact, was great for the reputation of the State was that our Governor and our leaders acknowledged the existence of a problem that was creating heartbreak and heartache in all of our communities; and a problem acknowledged is the first step in dealing with a problem to be solved.

Since then, Vermont has been extraordinary in its efforts to attack this problem. Communities like Rutland, St. Albans, Barre, and Burlington have coordinated with the police force, with our medical providers and our hospitals to provide a treatment-based approach to helping folks who have an addiction to opioids--many of them coming by it as a result of prescriptions for legitimate medical needs.

We had, in Rutland, a community coming together to create Project VISION, which has faith-based groups, the police, and the medical community doing everything they can to basically give individual attention to folks who are trying to help themselves get off of opiates.

The problem continues to be severe, but what we have is a community that is fully engaged in it, including our State legislature, which provided funds for treatment--a treatment-based approach--to helping people with a hub-and-spoke system that is really working well. Folks who are getting prescriptions, folks who have a problem, an addiction, are getting access to methadone or other prescribed products, take that in a hub so it is supervised, and they are able then to go to work.

So this has been a situation in Vermont where, as a result of the Governor's focus on the problem, we have had community engagement to stem the tide of this issue.

It has been working, but challenges remain because we don't have enough treatment funds. This legislation is an important acknowledgment on the part of Congress that we are getting it, that across this country we are all being affected by the challenges that our communities face.

I thank the sponsors of this legislation, Mr. Pallone, and Mr. Upton, too, for their leadership.

My hope, by the way, is that we get the message, too, in Congress that we have got to send some funds back to our communities that are struggling with these programs. We can't micromanage the treatment here. It is up to the courageous people in our communities to do it, and some of the tax dollars that they send to us we have got to send back to them. That is why I, among others, am supporting an emergency appropriation of $600 million. That would help quite a bit.

The amendment that I have on this bill, which establishes an interagency task force to review, modify, and update the best practices for pain management, would ask that we also review developing nonopioid forms of pain relief. If opioids diminish pain but they create misery, let's find another way to do it and help our folks who need pain relief to get it.

The second thing, it would examine existing nonopioid alternatives that could be better utilized.

So this is tremendous that there has been such a bipartisan coming together to sponsor practical steps that we can take. I see us in Congress as essentially acknowledging what Governor Shumlin identified as a real problem for us and we are hearing about in our communities. But I hope we are ready to take some next steps and actually focus on getting resources back to our communities that are doing the very, very challenging work at the local level where it needs to be done to help folks relieve themselves from the addiction of opioids.

Mr. Chairman, I yield back the balance of my time.

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