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With Abuse and Overdose Rates at an All-Time High, Harkin and Alexander Announce the HELP Committee Prescription Drug Abuse Working Group

WASHINGTON, D.C. — With prescription drug overdose death rates in the United States more than tripling since 1990 and prescription opioid abuse an ever-growing problem, Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Ranking Member Lamar Alexander (R-TN) today announced the establishment of the HELP Committee Prescription Drug Abuse Working Group.

The bipartisan staff Working Group will 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. Harkin and Alexander have invited all members of the HELP Committee to join and contribute to the Working Group.

“The abuse of prescription painkillers and narcotics has grown into a bona fide public health crisis, affecting virtually every state, city, and small town in the United States. Too many Americans and their families have suffered from the effects of this insidious epidemic,” Harkin said. “As the Senate committee responsible for protecting the public health, Ranking Member Alexander and I are convening this Prescription Drug Abuse Working Group to more closely examine the widespread misuse of drugs like hydrocodone, oxycodone, and other narcotics that can be easily abused—and to examine ways that the HELP Committee can potentially address this burgeoning crisis. I am pleased to work with my colleagues on the Committee, who I know are equally concerned about prescription drug abuse and committed to combating this tragic situation.”

“Not a day goes by that we don’t hear news of how prescription drug abuse is harming Americans across the nation, including in Tennessee,” Alexander said. “We are launching this working group to look at the problem from all angles—particularly what the federal government is doing to enable the mayors, governors, and law enforcement and public health officials who are working hard to address the problem.”

In the coming weeks and months, the HELP Committee Prescription Drug Working Group will convene a series of meetings to examine a wide range of topics around the issue of prescription drug abuse and misuse, including perspectives from states and local entities, private coalition efforts, federal officials, and innovators developing novel technologies for combating abuse, among other issues.

The most recent data shows that more than 16,000 lives are lost each year due to opioid-related overdoses. In 2010, two million people reported using prescription opioids non-medically for the first time—nearly 5,500 people a day.