Chairman Collins Leads Hearing on National Epidemic of Prescription Opioid Abuse, Underscores key concerns in recent Collins-led bipartisan letter to Secretary Burwell

Click HERE for a copy of Senator Collins’ opening statement

Click HERE to watch Senator Collins' opening statement

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Washington, D.C.—U.S. Senator Susan Collins, the Chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, led a hearing today titled, “Opioid Use Among Seniors—Issues and Emerging Trends,” to examine a facet of one of the foremost public health challenges facing our nation: opioid addiction.  The Aging Committee’s hearing explored the medical use of opioids for pain relief and the challenges health care providers face in treating pain in an environment where the diversion of prescription painkillers is contributing to the ongoing opioid epidemic.  At the invitation of Senator Collins, MaineGeneral’s Senior VP and Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Steve Diaz, testified at today’s hearing.

“Physicians now face the complicated task of treating pain in an environment where abuse of prescription painkillers is one of the foremost public health challenges facing our nation,” Senator Collins stated during the hearing. “Prescription opioid abuse has become a national epidemic and is having devastating effects on our families and our communities across America.” 

In both her opening statement and her questions to the panel’s witnesses, Senator Collins underscored the concerns raised in a recent bipartisan letter she led to HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell regarding a possible contributing factor to the opioid crisis facing our country. The letter was signed by 26 Senators and urged Secretary Burwell to conduct a robust examination of hospital performance surveys that may be contributing to the vast supply of prescription opioids currently in circulation in our country by inadvertently penalizing hospitals if physicians, in the exercise of their best medical judgment, opt to limit opioid pain relievers to certain patients.

In response to these concerns, Dr. Steve Diaz, the Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer of MaineGeneral Health, stated that, “this compulsion to do well on rankings for pain queries, coupled with pain toolkits proposing that medications for pain can be used ubiquitously and safely, has created an untenable conflict.  The result is that we now give more opiates and have more opiate addiction, diversion, and overdoses. This is increasingly a problem for the elderly.”

Senator Collins asked Sean Cavanaugh, the Deputy Administrator and Director of CMS, whether CMS will modify the current patient satisfaction survey to address the concerns the Collins-led delegation raised in their letter. In response, Mr. Cavanaugh said that Senator Collins’ letter and discussions with physicians have led CMS to rethink the current survey and that “[CMS is] absolutely studying whether there is better phrasing of these questions.”


Witnesses for the hearing included:

Sean Cavanaugh, Deputy Administrator and Director of the Center for Medicare, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Washington, D.C.  Read Mr. Cavanaugh’s testimony HERE.

Ann Maxwell, Assistant Inspector General, Office of Evaluation and Inspections, Office of Inspector General, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C.  Read Ms. Maxwell’s testimony HERE.

Steven Diaz, MD, FAAFP, FACEP, Senior Vice President, Chief Medical Officer and Emergency Medicine Physician, MaineGeneral, Augusta, ME.  Read Dr. Diaz’s testimony HERE.

Jerome Adams, MD, MPH, Health Commissioner, Indiana State Department of Health, Indiana.  Read Dr. Adams’ testimony HERE.

Sean Mackey, MD, PhD, Redlich Professor, Departments of Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine, Neurosciences and Neurology, Chief, Division of Pain Medicine, Director, Systems Neuroscience and Pain Lab, Stanford School of Medicine, California; Member of Institute of Medicine’s Committee on Advancing Pain Research, Care, and Education.  Read Dr. Mackey’s testimony HERE.