Home Older Americans are at increased risk of opioid misuse: Bill aims to offer protections

Older Americans are at increased risk of opioid misuse: Bill aims to offer protections

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Legislation has been introduced to increase access to non-opioid treatments for pain management for seniors and help combat the opioid epidemic in the United States.

Older Americans are at increased risk of opioid misuse. Many seniors experience pain related to acute illness or injury and are more likely to have chronic disorders associated with pain, leading to a high incidence of the prescribing of lower-cost generic opioids for pain management among this population. In 2021, more than 1 million seniors were diagnosed with an opioid use disorder in the U.S. with fatal drug overdoses among people 65 years and older quadrupling over the last two decades.

U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger of Virginia backs the bipartisan Alternatives to Prevent Addiction in the Nation (Alternatives to PAIN) Act. The bill would encourage the use of opioid alternatives to reduce addiction among seniors and would limit cost-sharing for patients receiving non-opioid based pain relief under Medicare Part D plans by requiring that the out-of-pocket cost of non-opioid treatments is no higher than the out-of-pocket costs of generic opioids. The legislation would also dissuade private insurance companies from steering patients toward generic prescription opioids and remove administrative red tape that prevents seniors from accessing the most suitable non-opioid pain management drug for them.

“Congress must do more to prevent the overprescription of opioids, help those struggling with addiction, and stop families from feeling the pain of losing a loved one to overdose. While the opioid epidemic affects Virginians of all ages and backgrounds, we are seeing seniors struggling with addiction at increasingly high rates,” Spanberger said. “Seniors dealing with chronic pain or injury are being prescribed opioids at increasingly high rates — and this trend is causing more of our most vulnerable neighbors to develop opioid use disorders. Since I first came to Congress, I have heard from far too many families who have had a loved one taken from them by this crisis. I’m proud to support this effort to increase access to covered, non-opioid pain medications for seniors and save lives.”

The bipartisan legislation is supported by several local, community-focused recovery and treatment advocacy organizations in Virginia, including the Substance Abuse & Addiction Recovery Alliance (SAARA) of Virginia, Encompass Community Supports, the McShin Foundation, Rappahannock Area Community Services Board and Culpeper Overdose Awareness.

“As the Executive Director of SAARA of Virginia, I am deeply grateful to Congresswoman Spanberger for her unwavering support of the Alternatives to PAIN Act (HR 7142),” SAARA of Virginia Executive Director Victor McKenzie, Jr. said. “This legislation marks a significant step forward in ensuring that Medicare beneficiaries have access to effective, non-opioid pain management options, helping to reduce the risk of addiction and misuse. By championing this bill, Congresswoman Spanberger demonstrates her commitment to combating the opioid crisis and supporting the recovery community in Virginia and beyond. Her leadership and dedication to addressing substance use disorder are truly commendable.”

Jim LaGraffe is Executive Director of Encompass Community Supports, formerly known as Rappahannock-Rapidan Community Services, and he thanked Spanberger for her support and advocacy of older adults.

“As the provider of the community behavioral health safety net and as the local Area Agency on Aging, we know all too well that our community’s seniors are not immune to the opioid epidemic. Prevention is critical and providing options for older adults who rely on Medicare Part D plans is an important step in that direction. In co-sponsoring the Alternatives to PAIN Act (HR 7142), Congresswoman Spanberger is working to ensure our older adult population has access to safe and effective non-opioid pain management,” LaGraffe said.

McShin Foundation Co-Founder John M. Shinholser said he has seen firsthand “the need and value for proven alternatives from ‘covered medication’ yet because of industry standards barriers these options were out of reach. I’m so glad to know the Congresswoman is fighting for such a common sense law; lives will be saved and extended the quality of treatments.”

“Congresswoman Spanberger constantly impresses me with her love for the people,” Honesty Liller, CPRS, CEO, McShin Foundation, said. “This legislation will change the lives of seniors as well as their family members. Being in recovery myself from an opioid use disorder, I value that there are alternative medicines for people other than opiates.”

More Americans died in the past year from overdose than any previous year on record, according to Brandie Williams, M.Ed., Ed.S., Deputy Executive Director, Rappahannock Area Community Services Board. She said the time is now to remain vigilant with intervention and treatment.

“The Alternatives to PAIN Act ensures this vigilance for some of our most vulnerable Virginians, our seniors. Just as the path to recovery looks different for each individual, so should the resources and treatment options available to them. The Alternatives to PAIN Act would provide much-needed, unrestricted access to non-opioid forms of pain management reducing the rates of misuse, overdose, and addiction. I would like to express my gratitude to Representative Spanberger for her consistent efforts to fight the opioid epidemic and addressing the needs of Virginians through her co-sponsorship of the Alternatives to PAIN Act,” Williams said.

Dee Fleming said she founded Culpeper Overdose Awareness seven years ago after her son and his best friend died of an opioid overdose.

“My son’s path toward drug use started after he was given opioids following injuries sustained playing football. His addiction didn’t have to happen. We must do better at providing non-addictive options for pain management. The Alternatives to PAIN Act would go a long way towards helping other families avoid a tragedy like ours. I want to thank Congresswoman Spanberger for supporting this legislation and for all of her efforts to combat the opioid epidemic and create healthier communities for us all,” Fleming said.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.