Combating the Opioid Crisis: Energy & Commerce’s Next Steps

The effects are disastrous and heartbreaking. The reach is from coast to coast. The opioid crisis has truly reached epidemic proportions, fueled by dangerous new chemical versions and illicitly manufactured synthetic drugs. Scan the headlines on any given day and you’ll hear about a life gone too soon to addiction or about a raid that seized obscene quantities of prescription painkillers or illicit drugs.

It is killing our friends, family members and neighbors in communities across the country.

The opioid epidemic is a deep and multi-faceted issue that we have examined through numerous aspects of our work at the House Energy and Commerce Committee. From the earliest hearings before our Oversight and Investigations subcommittee to legislative solutions tested in our Health subcommittee, our multi-year, multi-Congress findings have led to bills that are now law – namely the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act and the 21st Century Cures Act.

But just as the scourge continues across every county in the United States, we must redouble our efforts to match the growing crisis. Those actions range from ensuring successful implementation of the laws passed last year to continuing to investigate this crisis and identify additional solutions that will help those battling addiction and those in law enforcement and the health care professionals responding to the crisis.

Make no mistake, there is no silver bullet that can counteract the damage or heartbreak caused by this epidemic. But much can be done to help vulnerable patients get the treatment they want and need, and to ensure these powerful drugs are not getting into the wrong hands.

President Donald Trump recently declared the epidemic a national emergency. While the administration prepares to take action, it is of utmost importance we in Congress kick our work into high gear as well.

The week of Oct. 23, our full committee will hold a hearing to get an update on the implementation of CARA, and hear directly from agency officials who are leading the fight against this deadly menace at the federal level.

Our Oversight and Investigations subcommittee will also be continuing its efforts, specifically as they look to continue recent investigations into alleged pill dumping and patient brokering. These aspects of the epidemic represent some of the most heartbreaking tales.

There’s the small town of Kermit, W.Va., a town of fewer than 400 people, that received a staggering 9 million hydrocodone pills in a two-year period. Our oversight and other studies indicate this town was not alone in being flooded with opioids.

Additionally, the reports of so-called “patient brokers” serving as intermediaries and profiting from the recruitment of patients seeking treatment for addiction are just as chilling. These vulnerable patients are often stuck in a vicious cycle between addiction and treatment. It’s unethical and horrific.

And the once unheard-of synthetic opioid fentanyl is now a household name. Being 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine, it’s easy to see why this drug intended for pain management of cancer patients has made a name for itself on the streets, where it is easy and cheap to illicitly manufacture.

Unfortunately, the lack of consistent and accurate data has proven to be a complex issue in this fight as well. It’s September 2017 and we still have an incomplete picture of opioid overdose fatalities from last year. In the time since we began working toward passing CARA to present day, the number of opioid overdoses per day has more than doubled. It is critical we are united in this fight and that we are armed with the best tools and resources.

Much more can – and must – be done. After all, in one year alone, overdoses have taken more Americans than the entire Vietnam War, or car accidents during their peak in 1972.

We owe it to the 91 Americans who die every day from an opioid overdose and their loved ones to press on in our fight against the crisis gripping our nation. And that’s just what our committee intends to do.

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and represents Oregon’s 2nd Congressional District, which includes 20 counties in central, southern and eastern Oregon.

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