Alexander, Murray Ask Nation’s Governors, Insurance Commissioners How Federal Government Can Be Best Partner for States on the Front Lines of Opioid Crisis

Posted on December 14, 2017

WASHINGTON, December 14 — Senate health committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) today sent a letter to every governor and state insurance commissioner in the nation asking for their specific recommendations on how the federal government can be the most effective partner for states in the battle against the opioid crisis.

“We are writing to ask what further changes to federal law or regulations would be helpful as you work to combat the opioid crisis in your state. Prescription drug abuse and misuse, and especially opioid abuse and misuse, is a public health crisis that has increased dramatically in scope during recent years. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, since 1999, the rate of overdose deaths involving opioids has nearly quadrupled, with over 183,000 deaths in the U.S. between 1999 and 2015. In 2016, an estimated 64,000 Americans died from a drug overdose, and beginning in 2013, the nation has seen a skyrocketing increase in deaths related to fentanyl and synthetic opioids with over 20,000 overdose deaths. Every day, 91 Americans die from an opioid overdose,” the senators wrote.

On November 30, Alexander and Murray chaired a hearing in the Senate’s health committee—the second in a series of hearings on the opioid crisis—which focused on what is happening at the state and local levels to address the crisis. On October 5, the committee held its first hearing of the series on the federal response to the opioid crisis with witnesses from the administration.

The 21st Century Cures Act, sponsored by Alexander and Murray and passed in December 2016, included provisions to advance biomedical research and speed the development of new safe and effective treatments and cures to patients, and provided $1 billion for state opioid prevention and treatment efforts.

Below is the full text of the letter:

December 13, 2017

Dear Governors:

We are writing to ask what further changes to federal law or regulations would be helpful as you work to combat the opioid crisis in your state. Prescription drug abuse and misuse, and especially opioid abuse and misuse, is a public health crisis that has increased dramatically in scope during recent years. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, since 1999, the rate of overdose deaths involving opioids has nearly quadrupled, with over 183,000 deaths in the U.S. between 1999 and 2015. In 2016, an estimated 64,000 Americans died from a drug overdose, and beginning in 2013, the nation has seen a skyrocketing increase in deaths related to fentanyl and synthetic opioids with over 20,000 overdose deaths. Every day, 91 Americans die from an opioid overdose.

Congress has been working in a bipartisan way to ensure that federal laws intended to help fight this crisis are up to date. In 2015, the Protecting Our Infants Act helped address the growing problem of infants being born exposed to opioids. In 2016, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act established new programs and encouraged those on the front lines to work together to combat substance use disorders. Also in 2016, as part of the 21st Century Cures Act, Congress modernized authorities and programs at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to better prevent and treat opioid use disorders and provided $1 billion of funding for two years to help states respond to the opioid crisis. All three bills were signed into law during the 114th Congress, and the first round of funding from the 21st Century Cures Act, a total of $485 million in grants, has been issued to all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and four U.S. territories. 

We are asking you to inform us how these laws have helped state and local officials address the opioid crisis, whether additional changes to federal law or regulation are necessary, and if so, what specific changes should be considered.

Please submit recommendations and comments to HELPfightsopioids@help.senate.gov no later than January 15, 2018.

Congress will continue to work on this national problem, and we appreciate your input to help our efforts to develop bipartisan, common-sense solutions that provide you with the tools and flexibility you need to fight the opioid crisis.

Sincerely,

Senator Alexander                                                                                         Senator Murray