Speeches & Floor Statements

Hearing Statement: The Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018

Posted on April 24, 2018

Opening Statement—Opioids Crisis Response Act of 2018 markup

  • Today we are voting on with the hope of sending to the full Senate S.2680, the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018, led by Senator Murray and me.
  • Following that we will markup three additional health bills, which I will let the sponsors speak on at that time:

S.2315, Senators Isakson and Casey’s Over-the-Counter Drug Safety, Innovation, and Reform Act

S.2597, Senators Casey and Isakson’s Children’s Hospital GME Support Reauthorization of 2018

S.382, Senators Menendez and Murkowski’s Firefighter Cancer Registry Act

  • We are also voting on the nomination of Jon Parrish Peede to serve as the Chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities.
  • We also would like to vote on the nomination of Sharon Fast Gustafson to serve as General Counsel of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission but if that does not fit with senators’ schedules, we will vote on her nomination off of the Senate floor later this week.

S.2680—The Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018:

  • Over the last six months, this committee has heard from experts on how the federal government can be the best possible partner as we work to combat the nation’s largest public health crisis – the opioid crisis.
  • At our seven bipartisan hearings, we have heard heartbreaking stories of how this crisis has impacted parents and children, doctors and nurses, and entire communities.
    • We heard from Becky Savage – a mom who lost both her sons in the same night after they accidentally overdosed on a combination of alcohol and opioids they took at a graduation party.
    • We heard from Dr. Omar Abubaker, who lost his youngest son, Adam, at 21 years old after he overdosed on a mixture of heroin and benzodiazepines.
    • And two weeks ago we heard from Jessica Hulsey Nickel, who lost both her parents to addiction and has dedicated her life’s work to helping others battling the same disease.
  • The challenge before us has often been described as needing a moonshot.
  • Solving the opioid crisis might require the energy of a moonshot, but ultimately it is not something that can be solved by an agency in Washington, D.C.
  • What the federal government can do is create an environment so that everyone – judges, mayors, counselors, police officers, Drug Enforcement Administration agents, doctors, nurses, parents, pharmacists, and hospitals – can succeed in fighting the crisis.
  • That will take money, and last year we provided $500 million for state grants created in the 21st Century Cures Act to help address the opioids crisis.  This year Congress provided $1 billion for state grants – twice as much as last year.  The Omnibus spending bill included a total of $4.6 billion – which funds state grants, more research at the National Institutes of Health and more help for law enforcement. 
  • Today we are voting on legislation which aims to create the environment to help states and communities begin to bring an end to the opioid crisis.
  • Last Monday, Senator Murray and I introduced the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018, cosponsored by Senators Isakson, Manchin, Cassidy, Baldwin, Heller, Kaine, Capito, Heitkamp, Hatch, and Smith.
  • I hope we will today vote to approve this legislation so we can present it to Leader McConnell for the full Senate to consider and would expect that other committees will have recommendations as well. 
  • This legislation includes over 40 different proposals, from 38 different senators of both political parties, including legislation to help stop illegal drugs like fentanyl at the border, accelerate research on non-addictive pain medicines, reduce the number of inappropriately prescribed opioids, and support state interventions for children who have experienced trauma, such as a parent using opioids.
  • 38 senators have proposals included in the legislation we are voting on today, including:
    • A proposal, introduced by Senators Murray, Young, Hassan, and myself, that would spur development of a non-addictive painkiller by giving the National Institutes of Health additional flexibility.
    • Another offered by Senators Hatch, Bennet, Young, and Donnelly would help new non-additive pain or addiction treatments move through expedited pathways at FDA.
    • Senators Young and Donnelly also have a proposal to encourage the development of treatments that can be labeled as controlling pain as well as opioids, to reduce a patient’s need for an opioid.
    • I worked with Senators Johnson and McCaskill on a provision to improve detection and seizure of illegal drugs, such as fentanyl, through stronger coordination between FDA and US Customs and Border Protection.
    • Senators Baldwin and Cassidy – have worked on a provision that clarifies that US Customs and Border Protection is on the flagpole for destroying controlled substances found at the border, and would strengthen FDA’s authority to refuse admission of illegal drugs from bad-actors.
    • This manager’s amendment includes provisions which I worked on after hearing from FDA Commissioner Gottlieb about the importance of encouraging responsible prescribing behavior through additional authority to require drug manufacturers to make certain opioids available to patients with a set treatment duration – for example, a blister pack with a 3 or 7-day supply – and a safe way to dispose of unused opioids so they don’t fall into the wrong hands.
    • There are a number of provisions to help communities on the frontlines of the opioid crisis including:
    • A provision from Senators Portman, Whitehouse, Cassidy, Hassan, Sullivan, Cantwell, Capito, Klobuchar, Brown, Manchin, and Nelson to expand a program authorized under the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act to ensure first responders are trained to respond to cases involving fentanyl. 
    • Senators Hassan and Capito have included a provision that would provide grants to establish or operate comprehensive opioid recovery centers to provide the full continuum of care and serve as a resource for the community.
    • Senators Capito and Murphy offered proposals that would help ensure someone who has had an opioid overdose has access to the care and treatment they need to prevent future relapse and overdoses.
    • Senators Collins and Shaheen have two proposals to support peer recovery support services, which provide long term support such as connecting recovery addicts to educational opportunities or housing. The first would assist peer recovery organizations and peer support networks, which is when community-based organizations work together to provide support services. 
    • The second provision from Senators Collins and Shaheen would help organizations that provide peer support services by establishing a technical assistance center for addiction recovery support.
    • And Senators Portman, Kaine, Hatch, Whitehouse, Warren, Cassidy, Hassan, Sullivan, Cantwell, Capito, Klobuchar, Brown, Manchin, Nelson, and Blumenthal have a proposal to require HHS to issue best practices to organizations operating recovery housing facilities.
  • We have included proposals to help hospitals, doctors, and health care providers prevent and treat opioid addiction, including:
  • A proposal by Senators Booker, Gardner, Bennet and Capito to support hospitals and other care settings looking to manage pain without opioids by requiring the Secretary of HHS to issue technical assistance.
  • Senators Hassan and Portman have worked to support medical school students and residents so that when they graduate or complete their residency, they can prescribe medication assisted treatment.
  • A provision inspired by Senators Kaine, Young, Jones, Brown, and Capito to address the economic and workforce impacts of the opioid crisis.
  • Senators Smith and Murkowski have included a provision to allow mental and behavioral health providers participating in the National Health Services Corps to provide care in schools and other community-based settings.
  • And a provision inspired by Senators Donnelly, Capito, Hassan, and Murkowski is included to provide loan repayment to substance use disorder treatment providers who choose to practice in underserved areas.  
  • Senators Warren and Capito have offered a proposal to educate providers and patients about prescribing and dispensing options related to partially filling prescriptions for opioids at pharmacies.
  • Senators Manchin, Capito, Feinstein, King, Klobuchar, Murkowski, and Shaheen are sponsors of Jessie’s law, which the Senate passed last Congress and we have included here, to help alert doctors to a patient’s substance use treatment history, when requested by the patient.
  • Senators Cassidy and Murphy have included a provision to update providers on when they should share certain health information with family members during an emergency, such as an overdose. 
  • Senators Young, Baldwin, and Markey have worked to reauthorize a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention program that works to prevent infections associated with injection drug use, including viral hepatitis and HIV. 
  • And Senators Collins, Warren, Hassan, Baldwin, Rubio, and Capito have led on a provision to give qualified hospice professionals the legal authority to safely dispose of controlled substances to help reduce the risk of diversion.
  • We also have a number of proposals to help children impacted by opioid addiction, and help prevent the next generation from succumbing to the cycle of addiction:
  • Senators McConnell and Casey have two provisions that build upon the Protecting Our Infants Act, legislation we passed in 2015, to ensure that pregnant women are able to work with their doctors to receive appropriate pain management and to prevent neonatal abstinence syndrome.
  • Senators Portman, Peters, Whitehouse, Cassidy, Hassan, Sullivan, Cantwell, Capito, Klobuchar, Brown, Manchin, Nelson, Murkowski, and Murphy have included a program to help prevent children, adolescents, and young adults from misusing opioids, and support those in recovery.
  • Senator Casey has also offered a grant to help states implement plans of safe care for substance-exposed infants.
  • And Senators Nelson and Rubio worked on a proposal to collect data on neonatal abstinence syndrome and other similar conditions.
  • Senators Capito, Murkowski, Heitkamp, and Durbin have included provisions on helping children who experience trauma, such as a parent misusing opioids at home, including:
    • Funding to help states collect and report data on the effects of adverse childhood experiences;
    • A task force to make recommendations on identifying and preventing the effects of this trauma on children;
    • Grants to link schools with mental health treatment to help students impacted by these traumas; And increased funding for the National Child Traumatic Stress Initiative
  • I urge everyone to support this legislation so we can begin to bring an end to the opioid crisis.

Jon Parrish Peede to serve as the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities:

  • Finally, the committee will consider Jon Parrish Peede to serve as the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. 
  • As Chairman, Mr. Peede will oversee the process of awarding grants to museums, universities, and other cultural institutions.
  • Mr. Peede, a graduate of Vanderbilt University, is currently the senior deputy chairman of the agency.
  • I urge everyone to support this important nominee.

Sharon Fast Gustafson to serve as General Counsel of the EEOC: 

  • Today we will also vote to approve the nomination Sharon Fast Gustafson to serve as General Counsel of the EEOC.
  • If confirmed, Ms. Gustafson will be in charge of ensuring compliance with well-established anti-discrimination statutes.
  • She has impressive qualifications:
    • After graduating with honors from Georgetown University Law Center, she spent five years practicing labor and employment law at Jones Day.
    • Since 1995, Ms. Gustafson has represented both employees and employers, and she has practiced before the EEOC and the federal courts, including winning legal protections for pregnant workers nationwide at the U.S. Supreme Court in Young v. UPS.
  • I urge everyone to support this important nominee.