The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Oct. 5 held a full committee hearing on “The Federal Response to the Opioid Crisis” to examine how agencies are addressing the epidemic. Witnesses included Elinore McCance-Katz, MD, PhD, the assistant secretary for mental health and substance use at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA); Deborah Houry, MD, MPH, director of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); Francis Collins, MD, PhD, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH); and Scott Gottlieb, MD, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
In his opening statement, HELP Committee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) highlighted that “[l]ast year was the highest rate of drug overdose deaths in recorded history in Tennessee—and nearly 3 out of 4 of the drug overdoses in our state are related to opioids.” He also stated, “This is a crisis not just in Tennessee, but across the country, with 91 Americans dying every day from an opioid overdose.”
Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) discussed the impact of the opioid epidemic in her home state by detailing a recent visit to a hospital in Longview, Wash. where she was told that “nearly 50 percent of all babies being born there have mothers who struggle with substance use,” calling it “stunning” and “heartbreaking.”
Both leaders reminded witnesses of the 21st Century Cures Act [See Washington Highlights, Dec. 9, 2016] and the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act [See Washington Highlights, July 8, 2016], which include related initiatives to help address prevention, clinical care, and treatment. Chairman Alexander emphasized, “The most ambitious goal of the 21st Century Cures Act was to drive research discoveries predicted over the next decade by National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Dr. Francis Collins, including the development of non-addictive painkillers.”
During testimony, each witness detailed the various federal measures underway to combat the opioid crisis. In his testimony, Dr. Collins discussed ways that the NIH is supporting innovative research to better understand what makes an individual vulnerable to opioid misuse. Dr. McCance-Katz outlined the five point strategy of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), while Dr. Houry laid out the CDC’s Overdose Prevention in States (OPIS) program, which provides resources and scientific support to 45 states and Washington, DC. Dr. Gottlieb said that FDA is concentrating its efforts in three broad areas: lowering overall exposure to opioids and decreasing the number of new cases of addiction; increasing access to medication-assisted treatment; and helping expedite the development of progressively more-effective abuse deterrent formulations of opioid drugs.
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce Oct. 11 held a “Member Day” hearing on the opioid epidemic. More than 50 members of Congress testified about how the opioid epidemic is affecting their communities and propose solutions to fix the issue.