Policymakers say they are working on opioid crisis but also managing expectations

Hydrocodone opioid pills
Policymakers sounded off on efforts to address the opioid epidemic at a forum on Thursday. (Getty/smartstock)

Though legislators are gearing up to continue work on several bills aimed at the opioid epidemic, they warn policy can only go so far in addressing the underlying causes of the addiction crisis. 

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said that many people in the U.S. have an "addiction to self-medication," not just through opioids, but by drinking or using recreational drugs. Until that problem is addressed as a whole, the opioid crisis won't be solved, he said.

"I don't think we can ignore that," Portman said. "The [drug use] prevention message is getting lost in all this." 

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It's among the issues that compound the problem of America's opioids crisis, said Portman, who was among several policymakers to address the topic at a forum hosted by The Washington Examiner on Thursday morning.

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Congress has unveiled several policies aimed at the opioid crisis. Just this week, the Senate Finance Committee gave its stamp of approval to a legislative package that includes physician overprescribing, public education and increasing treatment access. 

Portman said there has been a lot of movement on opioid policy because it's a bipartisan issue that "affects every state and congressional district" in the country. 

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Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., echoed his sentiment but said it's also important that Congress doesn't "swing the pendulum too hard in the other direction" and end up doing harm to patients with chronic pain. As the push for reduced opioid prescriptions continues, some pain patients feel "demonized" for taking the medications they need, she said. 

Policymakers said supporting and facilitating drug research at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to expedite approvals of potential alternatives is a priority. 

"Pain is there, pain exists," said Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C. "What is the right medication? Where do you draw the line?" 

Surgeon General Jerome Adams, M.D., said it's also key for policymakers to continue to increase access to naloxone, both for first responders and for families and caregivers of people who are addicted. 

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People need to be more aware of what naloxone is and how to use it properly, Adams said, as greater exposure will save lives. 

"We need to normalize it," he said.