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Harkin, Alexander, HELP Committee Members Urge Continued Prescription Drug Abuse Work

Senators ask working group contributors—including HHS, governors, health care providers, and public health leaders—to keep committee informed as senators explore solutions to epidemic

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Prescription drug overdose death rates in the United States have more than tripled since 1990 and prescription opioid abuse is an ever-growing problem. Following on their creation of a bipartisan Prescription Drug Abuse Working Group earlier this year, Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Ranking Member Lamar Alexander (R-TN) today led HELP Committee senators in sending letters to a range of national, state, and local leaders calling for continued partnership on this issue.

The senators sent letters to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Burwell, National Governors Association (NGA) Chairman Governor John Hickenlooper (D-CO), and leaders of the American Medical Association (AMA), the America Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC), the Association for State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO), and the National Association of City and County Health Officials (NACCHO) highlighting key priorities of the committee in combatting prescription drug abuse, thanking the addressees for participating in the working group, and asking them to continue to keep the HELP Committee informed of their ongoing efforts to address this epidemic.

“Prescription drug abuse is a public health crisis that has increased dramatically in scope during recent years,” the senators wrote. “Drug overdose death rates in the United States have more than tripled since 1990. The most recent data shows that more than 16,000 lives are lost each year due to opioid-related overdoses. In 2011, almost 2 million people reported using prescription opioids non-medically for the first time—nearly 5,500 people a day.

“With our shared goal of preventing and reducing prescription drug abuse in this country – a crisis that demands continued action, we expect that your activities in this area will continue, and we stand ready to assist you,” the senators added. “We request that you provide updates to us early next year about your ongoing work, as we continue to explore potential solutions to this problem.”

The HELP Committee bipartisan staff working group was established to examine the characteristics and challenges of prescription drug abuse; what the federal government, state governments, public health groups, health care providers, law enforcement, and others are doing to address it; and consider ways to further address the issue. In addition to Harkin and Alexander, today’s letters were signed by HELP Committee Members Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Richard Burr (R-NC), Patty Murray (D-WA), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Pat Roberts (R-KS), Bob Casey (D-PA), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Kay Hagan (D-NC), Al Franken (D-MN), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Chris Murphy (D-CT), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

Since its creation, the HELP Committee Prescription Drug Working Group has convened a series of meetings to examine a wide range of topics around the issue of prescription drug abuse and misuse.

The full text of each letter can be found by clicking the links below:

Letter to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Sylvia Burwell                                                                                                                      

Letter to National Governors Association (NGA) Chairman Governor John Hickenlooper (D-CO)

Letter to American Medical Association (AMA) President Dr. Robert W. Wah and Association of American Medical Colleges President Dr. Darrell Kirch

Letter to National Association of County and City Health Officials President Dr. Georgia Heise and Association of State and Territorial Health Officials President Dr. Jewell Mullen