U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill thinks her mother was addicted to opioids before she died.
McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, hosted a health care roundtable Friday afternoon at St. Luke’s Hospital.
The roundtable with Kansas City physicians and other medical professionals covered topics including the cost of emergency room care, the impact of Missouri’s decision to not expand Medicaid and problems in the state’s mental health system.
McCaskill also devoted several minutes to the highly personal topic of opioid addiction.
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“There’s no question my mom was addicted to opioids near the end of her life,” said McCaskill, whose mother, Betty Anne McCaskill, died in 2012 at age 84.
She recalled how her mother often told her doctors that her pain was at a 10 on 1-to-10 scale to get the strongest dose of medication during her final years.
“It was one of those gut-wrenching things because it felt like I knew it was not helping her. On the other hand, to try and get her off those drugs at that point in her life also seemed like a cruel and sometimes painful thing to get done,” McCaskill elaborated to reporters after the event.
“And frankly some of the times she was in the most pain was when she was going through withdrawals. She wanted the drugs because she was coming off of the drugs … and all of them were prescribed with her doctors.”
Marc Larsen, the chair of emergency medicine at St. Luke’s, told McCaskill the medical community “created this epidemic by saying we have to treat the pain.”
McCaskill, who has led an investigation into opioid manufacturers, floated the idea of broadening her investigative efforts into the rest of the pharmaceutical industry. She repeatedly expressed her concern about the links between drug companies and research organizations that tout the benefits of medication.
Another area of focus during the discussion was the state of mental health care in Missouri.
McCaskill was shocked to learn that the largest mental health care provider in the state is the Department of Corrections. She was also surprised to learn that Missouri incarcerates women at a higher rate than any other state.
“Are women meaner in Missouri?” she quipped.
After the meeting, she blamed both of these statistics on the state’s “failure to have wrap-around health services, mental health services, behavioral health services for many of the underinsured and uninsured in our state.”