Discussing Migraine and Headache on Capitol Hill

by Teri Robert Patient Advocate

On Valentine's Day this year, I was happy to not have a Migraine ruining the day, but I wasn't at home sharing the day with my husband. Instead, I spend the day with my friend, colleague, and Migraine specialist, David Watson, M.D. We, along with over 100 other patients and health care professionals, were in Washington, D.C., for the 10th annual Headache on the Hill.

Headache on the Hill is an annual event of the Alliance for Headache Disorders Advocacy. On Monday afternoon (February 13, 2017), we had a three-hour briefing session. This session provided us with information on how to approach our senators, members of the House, and their legislative assistants. It also provided us with information about this year's "ask." We can be far more productive when visiting offices on Capitol Hill by being organized and by all of us asking our legislators and their staff to support specific issues and legislation. We need to give them something specific rather than simply asking them to be supportive of people with Migraine and other headache disorders.

his year, our ask was related to the opioid and chronic pain crises in the United States and legislation that would provide funding for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to conduct research that would address these crises. Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, and Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., are working towards an appropriations bill that would fund Section 108 of CARA, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016. Section 108 calls for fundamental, translational, and clinical research with respect to:

  1. the understanding of pain

  2. the discovery and development of therapies for chronic pain

  3. the development of alternatives to opioids for effective pain treatments

It also calls for:

"Priority and Direction. — The prioritization and direction of the Federally funded portfolio of pain research studies shall consider recommendations made by the Interagency Pain Research Coordinating Committee in concert with the Pain Management Best Practices Inter-Agency Task Force, and in accordance with the National Pain Strategy, the Federal Pain Research Strategy, and the NIH-Wide Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2016-2020, the latter of which calls for relative burdens of individual diseases and medical disorders to be regarded as crucial considerations in balancing the priorities of the Federal research portfolio."

If you're shaking your head and wondering what all of that means, I understand. The wording of legislation is often difficult to follow and fully understand. Essentially, Section 108 is about researching alternatives to opioids for chronic pain. When we made our rounds of Capitol Hill on February 14, we were asking our senators and members of the House support funding of Section 108 in any way possible.Dr. Watson and I made the rounds of West Virginia legislators.

Dr. Watson talked with them about the problems presented by a lack of good options for treating pain when he's trying to help his patients. I talked with them from the perspective of a patient who has Migraine as well as arthritis and pointed out the problems with opioids — not only are they a bad choice for people with Migraine, but they present me with issues related to medication overuse headache, and more. I gave them a window into my life, a life with no pain-free days, and no appropriate treatment options. Then, I talked with them about my advocacy work with patients who are in situations similar to or worse than mine. In addition to the issues of opioid abuse and addiction, I told them that we all need to also be concerned with the issues of loss of hope and suicide that come from having such limited treatment options.

Dr. Watson and I had four appointments on Capitol Hill:

  • In Rep. Alex Mooney's office, we met with one of his legislative assistants.

  • In Sen. Joe Manchin's office, we met with legislative assistants and Manchin.

  • In Sen. Shelley Moore Capito's office, we met with legislative assistants and Capito.

  • In Rep. David McKinley's office, we met with legislative assistants and McKinley.

It was a good day for us. Everyone we met with seemed receptive and enthusiastic. Of course, we'll have to wait and see if they all support Section 108 and if any of them cosponsor it, but my hopes are high. This is another way in which Dr. Watson and I work as partners. The day was much better for me because Dr. Watson and I went to our appointments together. I find it easier to talk with our senators and members of the House, as well as their legislative assistants, when he's with me. With both of us there, I don't worry so much about forgetting to say something important, and I feel that it's very effective to have both a physician and a patient in those meetings. All in all, it was a wonderful day.!

Teri Robert, Senator Joe Manchin, Migraine Specialist Dr. David Watson
Dr. Watson (on the right) and me with Sen. Joe Manchin!

Migraine Specialist Dr. David Watson, Senator Shelley Moore Capito, Teri Robert
Dr. Watson and me with Sen. Shelley Moore Capito!

Teri Robert, Congressman David McKinley, Migraine Specialist Dr. David Watson
Dr. Watson and me with Rep. David McKinley

Teri Robert
Meet Our Writer
Teri Robert

Teri Robert is a leading patient educator and advocate and the author of Living Well with Migraine Disease and Headaches. A co-founder of the Alliance for Headache Disorders Advocacy and the American Headache and Migraine Association, she received the National Headache Foundation's Patient Partners Award and a Distinguished Service Award from the American Headache Society.