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Defense Health Agency Director: Progress in Preventing Opioid Abuse, More Needs to Be Done


The Military Health System is making progress in preventing and managing opioid abuse among its beneficiaries, but further actions in education and prevention are needed, the director of the Defense Health Agency said yesterday. 

Navy Vice Adm. Raquel C. Bono told the House Armed Services military personnel subcommittee that the Military Health System has an obligation to provide the best care for its beneficiaries, including in pain management, while taking steps to prevent addiction.

“The department has made strides in managing opioid abuse within our system and is continuously looking to further enhance our programs,” she told the committee members.

Less than one percent of active duty service members either abuse or are addicted to opioids, she said, adding, the overdose death rate among active duty service members is 2.7 out of 100,000, half of the national rate when adjusted for demographics.

Steps to Educate, Prevent, Manage

In the Military Health System, 83 percent of long-term opioid patients are older than 45 years old, most likely to be retirees or retiree family members, and obtain most of their care from outside of military hospitals and clinics, Bono said.

She outlined steps the department is taking to prevent opioid abuse, to include: instituting comprehensive provider education that leads to a reduction in opioid prescribing; expanding partnerships with federal, state, private sector and contracted partners; developing alternatives to opioids for both direct and purchased care settings; and further expanding a prescription drug monitoring program to include state monitoring programs.

Commitment to Patients, Nation

The Military Health System’s mission is to ensure the medical readiness of the nation’s armed forces and provide world-class healthcare for its 9.4 million beneficiaries, Bono told the committee.

As part of the larger U.S. health system, the Military Health System has a shared responsibility in addressing the nation’s opioid epidemic, she said.

“This crisis is touching the lives of so many of our fellow citizens and the department is committed to playing its part to help combat the epidemic and ensure our patients receive the finest care we can provide,” Bono said.

She explained DoD’s approach to the opioid crisis has a dual focus: to implement a comprehensive model of pain management that focuses on nonpharmacologic pain treatments; and to optimize safe usage for patients when opioid use is necessary.

The department, according to Bono, is “making headway, but there is more to be done in educating our patients and providers on threats from opioid addiction and strategies to reduce abuse.”

(Follow Lisa Ferdinando on Twitter: @FerdinandoDoD)