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Alexander: Federal Government Should Be the Best Possible Partner for States on Front Lines of Opioid Crisis “Ravaging” Our Country

Asks witnesses to report on progress from 21st Century Cures and CARA – passed in 2016 to fight opioid abuse – and what more Congress can do

WASHINGTON, D.C., November 30, 2017 --  Senate health committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today said that “we must ensure the federal government is the best possible partner for states on the front lines of the opioid crisis ravaging our country.” 

Today’s hearing – the second in a series of hearings on the opioid crisis – is focused on what is happening at the state and local levels to address the crisis and follows a Senate health committee meeting last month to hear from administration witnesses on the federal response to opioid abuse.  

“The opioid crisis is tearing our communities apart, tearing families apart, and posing an enormous challenge to health care providers and law enforcement officials,” Alexander said. “It seems that every day, there are new studies and statistics that further describes the toll of this crisis. For example, last week the White House Office of Economic Advisers released a report that estimated the opioid crisis cost $504 billion in 2015.”

Alexander continued: “While the federal government remains an important partner in this fight, those in the judicial and public health sectors are on the front lines of this crisis. I want to know how these different state departments are working together to fight opioid addiction and what innovative approaches states are taking to address the distinct challenges they face.”

“Last year, Congress provided tools and resources to states through the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act and the 21st Century Cures Act. I would like to hear whether these laws are helping states make progress in the fight against the opioid crisis, and, if not, why not.”

“This past spring, the administration began issuing grants funded by Cures for states to use to combat the opioid crisis, totaling $485 million to all 50 states. Because each state is facing different challenges in responding to the crisis, it is important that states have flexibility in how to use the money. Tennessee is using some of its nearly $14 million to distribute naloxone, a drug that can reverse an overdose, and implement strategies to help reduce the number of babies born who experience withdrawal from opioids. In the last ten years, Tennessee has seen a nearly 10-fold rise in the incidence of babies born addicted to opioids.”

“Other states are using funds to improve state-run prescription drug monitoring programs – the electronic databases that can track controlled substances prescribed by doctors and dispensed by pharmacists. That way, doctors can see whether a patient has already been prescribed an opioid by another doctor across the street. I’m eager to hear how these programs are run in your states and if there are things that can be done at the federal level to help improve coordination and data-sharing at the state level.”

Witnesses today included Dr. Omar Abubaker, a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Dentistry and who also lost his son to a drug overdose, Rebecca Boss, Director of the Rhode Island Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals, Andrea Magermans, Managing Director of the Wisconsin Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, and John Tilley, Secretary of the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet.

Alexander’s full prepared remarks are available here