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Alexander Begins Series of Hearings on Opioid Crisis That is “Tearing Our Communities and Families Apart"

Asks how federal efforts are helping states like Tennessee – where nearly 3 out of 4 drug overdoses are opioid-related

WASHINGTON, October 5 — Today, Senate health committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) began a series of hearings on the opioid crisis with the federal response, saying the crisis is “tearing our communities apart, tearing families apart, and posing an enormous challenge to health care providers and law enforcement officials.”

“Last year, 1,631 Tennesseans died of a drug overdose —12 percent more than the year before,” Alexander said. “Last 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. … This is a crisis not just in Tennessee, but across the country, with 91 Americans dying every day from an opioid overdose.”

Alexander continued: “This committee has worked together to pass laws to help prevent addiction, encourage appropriate prescribing, and improve treatment. Last July, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act was signed into law, which established new programs and encouraged those on the front lines to work together to combat substance abuse. In December, as part of the 21st Century Cures Act, we updated drug abuse programs and provided $1 billion for prevention and treatment efforts.”  

“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 Director Dr. Francis Collins, including the development of non-addictive painkillers. There is an urgent need for non-addictive ways to treat pain, which could be medical devices or drugs, and I want to ensure there is clear guidance on what is necessary to get these innovative treatments into doctors’ offices and patients’ medicine cabinets. … Congress has worked a lot in a bipartisan way to provide funding and update programs to assist states and help combat this public health crisis. I look forward to hearing how the administration is moving this important work forward.”

Congress passed and President Obama signed into law the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) last July. Alexander was one of seven Senate conferees who worked with the House conferees on the final CARA conference report. Earlier this year, the Trump administration announced $144 million in grants under CARA will be awarded to states, cities, health care providers, and community organizations, with $6 million going to Tennessee.

In addition to providing $1 billion in grants to states to address the opioid crisis, the 21st Century Cures Act updated substance abuse programs out of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Alexander was the lead Republican Senate sponsor of Cures, which was signed into law last December. This past spring, the administration began issuing grants funded by Cures, including nearly $14 million for Tennessee.

Alexander’s full prepared remarks here: