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E&C Hears Personal Stories from the Opioid Crisis


WASHINGTON, DC – The Health Subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Michael C. Burgess, M.D. (R-TX), yesterday held a roundtable discussion, hearing personal stories from the opioid crisis.

Participants provided a first-hand look at many issues within the opioid crisis, including the rise of fentanyl and other synthetic drugs, and patient brokering. Both issues have been the subject of hearings and investigations by #SubOversight.

Members of the subcommittee heard from the following witnesses:

Paula Peterson, Founding Member, Families Anonymous – Oregon Chapter, and mother of Cole, who is in recovery. Ms. Peterson and Cole recently met #FullCmte Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) at a roundtable in Grants Pass, Oregon. At that meeting, the Petersons talked about Cole’s journey – using oxycodone as a teenager and looking for other sources when the drug’s formula changed, preventing it from being crushed for various usage. Today, Cole and several of his friends, are on Suboxone, to help treat his addiction.

Kathy O’Keefe, Executive Director, Winning the Fight, whose son Brett, passed away from a heroin overdose in 2010. Ms. O’Keefe, holding up photos of young adults who have fatally overdosed said, “They’re not statistics, they’re not numbers, they’re families.” In speaking about her position with Winning the Fight, Ms. O’Keefe offered her support for the committee’s examining of reforms to address coverage and payment issues within Medicare and Medicaid, saying it’s currently easier to get treatment for someone without coverage.

Gary Mendell, Founder, Chairman and CEO of Shatterproof, who lost his son Brian in 2011 to suicide after 13 months substance-free. In sharing Brian’s story, Mr. Mendell stressed it was the shame and stigma his son felt that ultimately led to him taking his own life. During the question and answer portion of the roundtable, Mr. Mendell stressed to the subcommittee members that he, along with the other participants, were sharing their stories for a purpose – to help lead to urgently needed reforms.

Mary Winnefeld, Stop the Addiction Fatality Epidemic (S.A.F.E. Project US), mother of Jonathan, who just passed away in 2017 from a fentanyl-laden batch of heroin just days after he started college. Ms. Winnefeld spoke to the importance of support systems, and how critical the transition from treatment can be. Ms. Winnefeld also shared with the committee a video sharing Jonathan’s story, which can be viewed here.

Devon Hott, Director of Operations, Recovery Care Partner, and who has been in recovery for more than three years. Ms. Hott shared her battle with addiction and how she was able to become substance-free. She also spoke about her job today and how she helps others who are battling addiction.

Aimee Manzoni D’Arpino, Massachusetts State Chair, Addiction Policy Forum, who lost her son Emmett to substance use disorder in 2016. Speaking the day before the two-year anniversary of her son’s passing, Ms. D’Arpino expressed concerns about health provider misinterpretation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), which led to her and her husband not knowing of Emmett’s Emergency Room visits while away at college when he had overdosed and needed to be revived on multiple occasions.

Michael Gray, father of Amanda, who suffered from acute mental illness and passed away after a fentanyl overdose earlier this year. Mr. Gray called fentanyl the “spark to the tinder box,” explaining the potency of the synthetic opioid. He highlighted H.R. 2851, the Stop the Importation and Trafficking of Synthetic Analogues (SITSA) Act, authored by Rep. John Katko (R-NY) as an important action Congress could take.

Lisa Daniels, mother of Jamie, who fell victim to the nefarious practice of patient brokering and passed away in 2016 from a fentanyl-laced heroin overdose. Ms. Daniels talked about how when Jamie left one therapy stay, she sought recommendations for additional therapists for Jamie. She was told to “Google it.” She also shared her family’s experience with patient brokering and the tens of thousands of dollars they have been billed for services they are not sure were provided to their son.

Gail Smith, Prevention Plus of Burlington County and the Kenny Smith Freedom Foundation, who lost her son Kenny to overdose after he was exploited by a fraudulent recovery residence. Like many teens first exposure to drugs or alcohol, Kenny’s began with a curiosity that morphed into a full-fledged addiction. Like Jamie Daniels, Kenny also fell victim to patient brokering and was essentially shuffled around Florida, being admitted to six treatment facilities in four months, before he fatally overdosed in a sober home.

Members of #SubHealth, and members of the #FullCmte who participated in the roundtable, shared their thoughts ahead of and following the event.

#SubCommTech Chairman Marsha Blackburn recorded a quick message about her commitment to combating the opioid crisis on her way to the roundable.

Rep. Susan Brooks (R-IN) was in attendance and urged her followers to “hear their stories.”

Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) took to Twitter after the roundtable to talk about the moving discussion and his efforts to combat the crisis.

#SubDCCP Chairman Bob Latta reflected on the stories at Thursday’s roundtable, saying “Their stories are heartbreaking and their call to action is undeniable.”

The roundtable followed three legislative hearings to examine the opioid crisis and possible legislative solutions. In February, #SubHealth reviewed eight bills pertaining to the Controlled Substances Act that will improve patient safety and bolster enforcement tools. In March, #SubHealth held a two-day hearing examining 25 prevention and public health solutions (read a recap of day one here and a recap of day two here). Last week, #SubHealth reviewed coverage and payment issues within Medicare and Medicaid.

#SubHealth announced earlier this week that it plans to markup legislation next week to combat the opioid crisis. The markup is scheduled for Wednesday, April 25, 2018. More information, including a full list of bills to be considered, will be posted here as it becomes available.

For more information on today’s roundtable, including participant remarks and archived webcast, click here.


Press Release