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During Cleveland Visit, President's Opioid Task Force Takes Tips From VA

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New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who leads the White House's opioid task force, visits a Cleveland VA.

The U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Dr. David Shulkin, joined President Trump’s opioid task force at the Cleveland VA Medical Center on Thursday.

They were in town to hear from VA doctors on their best practices for pain management and opioid use including guidelines for prescribing opioids, alternative medicine for dealing with pain, and a continuum of care for opioid addiction.

Nationally, the VA has been using these practices since 2013. Locally, the VA began even earlier, and Shulkin says Cleveland is showing strong results.

“Just 4 percent of the patient population they serve are using and being prescribed opioids, which is well, well below what you would find across the country,” Shulkin says.

At a roundtable discussion, which included President Trump’s advisor Kellyanne Conway, the VA shared some of its practices to address pain, including the use of alternative treatments such as acupuncture, yoga and meditation. 

“In not all cases must pain management mean pain medicine. There are opioids and there are other modalities. And we saw that first hand here. To read about it is one thing. To intuit as a lay person is quite another. But to see it in practice is quite remarkable and something I will take back to the White House and really never forget.”

The opioid task force will issue its report on November 1. 

The group’s chairman, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, says his group is working with the White House to designate the opioid epidemic a national emergency.

“The president is getting advice from his staff and from lawyers on the best way to do that, and I’m confident that in the very near future he will execute the documents that need to be executed for us to be able to do that,” Christie said. “But the biggest problem would be is if we did it in a way that was haphazard and less effective and have to go back and redo it.”

President Trump said in August he intended to make the national emergency declaration—opening up federal funds to address the problem—but he has yet to do so.