The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Dec. 5 held a hearing to discuss federal efforts to address the opioid epidemic.
Witnesses for the hearing included Francis Collins, MD, PhD, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH); Patrick Kennedy, former Congressman (D-RI) and member of the President’s Commission on Combatting Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis; Elinore McCance-Katz, MD, PhD, assistant secretary for mental health and substance use for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; and Debra Houry, MD, MPH, director for the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Subcommittee Chair Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) began the hearing by calling the opioid crisis “the worst drug epidemic our nation has ever faced.” The Subcommittee’s Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) also shared her concerns, saying “Every day, from every corner of our country, we hear more about the devastation being caused by the opioid crisis - from doctors who are treating babies born addicted to opioids, to parents who have lost children to an overdose, to veterans in chronic pain who are struggling with addiction – unfortunately the list could go on and on.” Highlighting the committee’s work, Chairman Blunt pointed out, “Over the last three years that Senator Murray and I have been the Chair and Ranking Member of the Labor/HHS Subcommittee, we have written bills that have increase opioid funding by $760 million, or over 1,300 percent.”
In his testimony, former Rep. Kennedy called for “real, substantial, emergent dollars” saying we aren’t doing “nearly enough” to address this crisis. Before concluding, Rep. Kennedy demanded that Congress allocate “no less than $25 billion in supplemental appropriations” to address the opioid epidemic and said, “if Congress can spend over $50 billion to address natural disasters, it can absolutely spend just half that to address an escalating national disaster killing more than 100,000 American’s just this year.”
The federal witnesses – Drs. McCance-Katz, Houry, and Collins – submitted joint written testimony to the committee, which discusses the Department of Health and Human Services’ five-point opioid strategy and highlights President Trump’s Oct. 26 declaration of a Nationwide Public Health Emergency. Also of note are the NIH’s efforts to support research through public-private partnerships and advance the practice of pain management.