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Energy and Commerce Subcommittee Holds Hearing on the Opioid Crisis

January 17, 2020

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CONTACTS
Allyson Perleoni, Senior Legislative Analyst

The House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Jan. 14 held a hearing titled “A Public Health Emergency: State Efforts to Curb the Opioid Crisis.”

In their opening statements, Subcommittee Chairwoman Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) and Subcommittee Ranking Member Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.) emphasized the continuing challenges of addressing the opioid epidemic. DeGette opened the hearing stating, “The purpose of today's hearing is to examine state's efforts and successes in addressing the opioid epidemic as well as opportunities for future federal support.”

DeGette specifically highlighted the complex and evolving nature of the epidemic and emphasized that “states, federal government agencies, and Congress must remain vigilant.”

Both DeGette and Guthrie also discussed Energy and Commerce Committee legislation to address the crisis, with Guthrie stating, “This committee led the way on the passage of the 21st Century Cures Act (P.L. 114-255), the Comprehensive Addiction Recovery Act (CARA, P.L. 114-198), and the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act (P.L. 115-271). I was proud to work on all three of these comprehensive laws, which are designed to combat the opioid crisis through prevention, advancing treatment and recovering initiatives, protecting communities, and bolstering our efforts to fight synthetic drugs like fentanyl.”

The witness panel included a number of public health officials from states that have succeeded in efforts to reduce the number of opioid deaths in their states. In her opening statement, Massachusetts Department of Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel, MD,  stated that, “in Massachusetts, our public health-centered approach to the opioid epidemic is working. I'm heartened to let you know that from 2016 to 2018 our opioid overdose deaths have declined by four percent. We continue to focus on the widespread availability of naloxone, medication and behavioral health treatment, and sustained recovery services.”

Though many of the witnesses touted the successes of their states, they also expressed the ongoing challenges that they still face. Christina Mullins, commissioner for the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources’ Bureau for Behavioral Health, discussed the ongoing crisis in West Virginia that “continues to experience substantial workforce shortages, gaps in training related to psycho-stimulants and polysubstance use, a lack of capacity to serve children impacted by this crisis.” Throughout the hearing, other witnesses also discussed the need for a stronger workforce to address the epidemic.

Rep. Susan Brooks (R-Ind.) specifically discussed workforce needs during her questioning. Brooks highlighted legislation that she is co-leading with Rep. Schneider (D-Ill.), Rep. Kuster (D-N.H.), and Rep. Stefanik (R-N.Y.) – The Opioid Workforce Act of 2019 (H.R. 3414/S. 2892) – which “is meant to try to raise the cap on graduate medical education residency slots by a thousand more residencies across the country.” The legislation, which was introduced in May 2019, would increase the number of residencies in addiction medicine, addiction psychiatry, pain medicine, and their prerequisite programs [see Washington Highlights, May 3, 2019].

Brooks asked the witnesses if they believed that increasing the number of residency slots would be helpful to addressing the opioid crisis. Jennifer Smith, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, stated that, “I do believe it would be helpful,” and Dr. Bharel thanked Brooks for “this important attention to the professional training.”

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