Leahy Leads Charge To Research Alternatives To Opioids For Chronic Pain Through Defense Department Health Program

Continuing to lead the charge in the Senate Appropriations Committee in the fight against the opioid epidemic, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) Thursday steered $10 million to a new research program in the Department of Defense to study alternatives to opioids for chronic pain management. 

Despite a number of programs meant to help the service community understand and address the potentially harmful effects of long-term opioid abuse, the Department of Defense does not have a comprehensive strategy to research and understand alternatives to opioids to manage chronic pain.  Because of this, members of the military rely on these potentially dangerous and highly addictive drugs, which has had severe consequences. 

A study conducted by the Veterans Administration in 2016 found that those receiving the highest doses of opioid painkillers were more than twice as likely to die by suicide compared to those receiving the lowest doses.  And a 2017 study found that over 63 percent of veterans receiving chronic opioid treatment also have a mental health diagnosis.  Around the country, the opioid epidemic, fueled by prescription opioids, continues to cost lives and tear apart communities.

Leahy, Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said:  “The strain of battle and serving in our armed forces has left countless service members suffering from chronic pain, whether from combat-related injuries or from the stress placed on their bodies through training and deployments.  For too long we have relied on opioids as a quick fix to this problem.  We now know the consequences, and the men and women of our military deserve better.  This funding will help the Department of Defense continue to move in the right direction by researching alternatives to opioids to manage chronic pain.”

Through Leahy’s efforts, the Defense Appropriations Bill – the annual budget for the Defense Department -- approved Thursday by the Appropriations Committee, would direct $10 million through the Congressionally-Directed Medical Research Program for a new program to invest in chronic pain management research and alternatives to opioids.  The new program enables collaboration with non-military research institutions, like universities or the National Institutes of Health Pain Consortium, to address the issue of chronic pain among service members.

Academic institutions like the University of Vermont and the UVM Medical Center, which have been pioneering new ways to manage chronic pain like physical therapy, yoga and acupuncture, would also be eligible to compete for the funds.

In past appropriations bills, competitive grants have been available to research alternatives to manage chronic pain, but Leahy’s efforts mark the first time there is a designated program for this research under the Congressionally-Directed Medical Research Program.

Leahy Thursday also announced $20 million to establish three Rural Centers of Excellence on Substance Use Disorders to help address the unique challenges of the opioid epidemic in rural communities.  Read more HERE: https://www.leahy.senate.gov/press/leahy-guides-creation-of-national-centers-to-address-rural-addiction-through-the-senate-appropriations-committee

Both programs and the bills in which they are supported must now be considered by the full Senate and House of Representatives and signed into law by the President.

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