News Releases

In opening remarks, Senator Murray shared stories from recent Everett visit of Washington state residents who have experienced opioid misuse in their families, communities 

During hearing, Senator Murray notes ‘big data’ alone doesn’t guarantee a big impact

Senator Murray: “Data must be easy to use—but hard to misuse” 

ICYMI—Everett Herald: “Opioid users and victims to Sen. Patty Murray: ‘Help’” 

***WATCH SENATOR MURRAY’S OPENING REMARKS HERE***

(Washington, D.C.)  – Today, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), top Democrat on the Senate health committee, delivered opening remarks at a committee hearing on the role of technology and data in addressing the opioid crisis. In her remarks, Senator Murray shared anecdotes that she heard days earlier during a roundtable discussion in Everett about the impact of the epidemic on children and families that featured personal testimony from two parents in recovery from opioids misuse, a community advocate who lost a child to an opioid overdose, a former foster youth whose parents were addicted to opioids, and school and community leaders who have experience dealing with students, families and other community members who have misused opioids. During the hearing, Senator Murray also highlighted the potential for new approaches to technology and more interoperable data systems to help identify and prevent opioid addiction, and the importance of ensuring patients have their privacy protected.

The hearing was the latest in a series where the Senate health committee has heard about the impact of the opioid epidemic on families and communities and what can help them address the crisis.  

Key excerpts of Senator Murray’s remarks:

“I heard from a young man who ended up in foster care as his parents struggled with drug use and mental health issues. I heard from a mother who felt helpless as her son experienced addiction, sought help, struggled with relapse, and tragically died of an opioid overdose. I heard from another parent whose children were taken away before she was able to overcome her addiction. I heard from an elementary school principal whose students should be learning to read, and write, and do arithmetic, should be running around full of energy and excitement, but are instead struggling to focus at school because of the trauma of their parents’ addiction at home.”

“These electronic databases, which keep track of prescriptions for controlled substances, can be a great resource to fight opioid misuse. However, ‘big data’ by itself doesn’t guarantee a big impact. We need to use the data creatively—protecting the privacy of patients, while finding innovative ways to protect their safety and health.”

“…we must always be mindful of the importance of patient privacy. Data must be easy to use—but hard to misuse. People dealing with addiction already face stigma, and may fear speaking out or seeking help. We must ensure that our data practices and protocols don’t create new risks or fears that patients’ most private battles might be made public against their wishes.”

Video of Senator Murray’s remarks available HERE.

Full text below of Senator Murray’s remarks:

“Thank you Mr. Chairman.

“Last week when I was back in Washington state, I heard firsthand from families and communities facing this epidemic.

“I heard from a young man who ended up in foster care as his parents struggled with drug use and mental health issues. I heard from a mother who felt helpless as her son experienced addiction, sought help, struggled with relapse, and tragically died of an opioid overdose. I heard from another parent whose children were taken away before she was able to overcome her addiction. I heard from an elementary school principal whose students should be learning to read, and write, and do arithmetic, should be running around full of energy and excitement, but are instead struggling to focus at school because of the trauma of their parents’ addiction at home. On a previous trip to a hospital in Longview, Washington, I heard how half of the babies there were born to mothers addicted to opioids.

“And just as I’ve been listening to voices back in Washington state, this committee has also been listening here in Washington, D.C., and learning more about what our communities need to fight this national epidemic. I’m grateful to our witnesses today for adding their voices to that discussion. Technology and data offer important opportunities to address the opioid crisis, prevent addiction, and avoid the tragedies so many families are facing.

“While we can see the promise of this approach through efforts such as prescription drug monitoring programs, or PDMPs, which almost every state has established—there is much more we can do. These electronic databases, which keep track of prescriptions for controlled substances, can be a great resource to fight opioid misuse.

“However, “big data” by itself doesn’t guarantee a big impact. We need to use the data creatively—protecting the privacy of patients, while finding innovative ways to protect their safety and health.

“Some states are pioneering ways to make this happen. For example, some states require doctors to check the database so they are aware of a patient’s existing prescriptions before they write new ones. States that require this saw a drop in opioid prescriptions, drug-related hospitalizations, and overdose deaths.

“Others have built-in systems to alert doctors of alarming patterns or signs that a patient may be at risk of drug misuse, and others have made PDMPs easier to access and use by integrating them with electronic health records.

“Still, while many states are looking at new ways to put their data to good use, there is also important data many still can’t use—the data collected by neighboring states. Too many of the PDMP systems are not sufficiently interoperable. That means they aren’t sharing data and working effectively with each other. As a result, the prescription a patient receives in one state may not show up in the system of another state. Two doctors in different states may not see they are writing prescriptions for the same patient. They may not have the data to see a pattern of substance misuse or to prevent one from developing. We need more states to move toward an interoperable PDMP system so that we can put the pieces together and give doctors a full picture of a patient’s prescription history.

“And it isn’t just states that must understand the role that technology and data can play in addressing this epidemic. Pharmacies, prescribers, patients and all stakeholders must take a look at how new advances can help prevent and address opioid misuse. Whether through more responsible prescribing based on risk factors, safe disposal of controlled substances, or safety checks by pharmacists upon dispensing.

“And we must always be mindful of the importance of patient privacy. Data must be easy to use—but hard to misuse.

“People dealing with addiction already face stigma, and may fear speaking out or seeking help. We must ensure that our data practices and protocols don’t create new risks or fears that patients’ most private battles might be made public against their wishes. Striking that balance is no easy task, but it is an important one.

“We’ve made great progress so far in striking difficult balances and responding to this crisis with bipartisan solutions. I’m hopeful that, through conversations like this one, we can continue that bipartisan progress as we look at how technology can empower partners fighting this crisis at every level from federal, state and local government, to health care providers, to educators, to public safety officials, to families like those I met with in Washington state.

“I look forward to hearing from our witnesses and learning more from their experience and expertise.

“And Mr. Chairman, I very much look forward to our continued work together—and with so many other Senators—to find and move forward key legislative solutions to the many challenges we face in fighting this crisis.

“Thank you.”