by Claire Vernon, PhD Candidate in the NU Driskill Graduate Program
Speaking at the end of a day of panel discussions, Senator Durbin highlighted the players in the current crisis of opioid use: pharmaceutical companies who make prescription opioids, prescribers who recommend care for people suffering chronic pain, and patients who deal with or risk addiction in order to address their health needs. Considering these three primary players, the senator outlined his goals for breaking a cycle where prescription drug use becomes addiction and increases demand for both legal and illicit opioids.
In addition to other healthcare issues, a top priority for Senator Durbin is changing legislation that allows pharmaceutical companies to advertise directly to consumers and to set non-generic drug prices as high as the market will support. Secondly, he stressed that prescribers must be supported in their position as the “gate-keepers” of prescription narcotics. Health professionals should be allowed to administer these drugs where they have proven benefit, but they must also be supported by both insurance payments and standard-of-care policy to pursue non-opioid pain relief for patients. The senator mentioned the importance of parity in mental health coverage legislated in the Affordable Care Act in ensuring mental health care is covered similar to medical and surgical care, remarks that resonate with my own concerns on the ability of insurance companies to dictate patient care by the treatments they are willing to reimburse. Related to this is the need to eliminate policies that restrict mental health care or addiction treatment, such as restricted bed numbers in inpatient treatment centers for substance use disorders. He emphasized that such policy change must be funded in order to be effective, commenting that while everyone agrees that something must be done they do not agree on which money should be spent to accomplish these policy goals.
Finally, Senator Durbin underscored that we as a society must continue to change our biases surrounding addiction and mental health. He echoed what many others stated throughout the symposium: addiction is a mental health disease. Much of the day served as kindling for critical thought among health professionals, legal professionals, policy-makers, and voters, but this last point reaches out to each of us personally. The need for mental health care is just that—a health care need, not a personal or moral failing. If patients’ mental health is to be effectively cared for it must not be stigmatized. The many professionals who contributed their time and expertise to the Opioids Symposium challenge us each to be this change.
You can see Senator Durbin’s remarks as well as all of the symposium panels here.