Speeches & Floor Statements

Opening Statement: Governors Take Lead in Supplying Opioid Overdose Reversal Drug, Improving Drug Monitoring Programs

Posted on March 8, 2018

Opening Statement – Opioids hearing with Governors

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions will please come to order.

 

Today are holding our sixth hearing this Congress on the opioids crisis. Joining us to talk about what is working in their states is Governor Larry Hogan from Maryland and Governor Kate Brown from Oregon.

 

This hearing is a follow up to a roundtable Senator Murray and I hosted last week with 13 governors that 32 senators attended, to hear from the governors about the opioid crisis.

 

Senator Murray and I will each have an opening statement, and then I will introduce the witness. Then we will hear from the governors and senators will each have 5 minutes of questions.

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In January, I dropped by a meeting at the Tennessee Governor’s Residence in Nashville. The heads of all our state’s institutions involved in training doctors were planning how to discourage the over prescription of opioids.

 

The governor told me that in our state of 6.6 million people, there were 7.6 million opioid prescriptions written in 2016.

 

And that even though the state has reduced the amount of opioids prescribed to that still very high number, the number of overdose deaths is still rising because of abuse of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid.

 

In fact, according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, opioid overdoses spiked 30 percent between July 2016 and September 2017 across the country.

 

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So this is an evolving crisis that has affected nearly every state across the country, but the specific challenges faced by Tennessee may be very different from what Oregon or Maryland faces.

 

Really, states are the ones who come up with the good ideas on how to tackle big problems because they’re on the frontlines, and it’s usually the federal government’s role to encourage them and cut the red tape to create an environment so that states can innovate.

 

That is true with addressing the opioids crisis.

 

Governors are coming up with innovative solutions and leading the fight against the specific problems their state faces in the midst of the opioid crisis.

 

For example, Governor Hogan and Maryland have allowed all pharmacies to dispense naloxone, the drug that stops a drug overdose, and opened an Opioid Operations Command Center to coordinate the state and local governments’ response to the crisis.   

 

And Governor Brown has prioritized improving Oregon’s prescription drug monitoring program and is working with the state legislature in Oregon on a peer mentorship program for individuals struggling with addiction. 

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Congress has also taken a number of steps to support states fighting the opioids crisis:

In 2015, we passed the Protecting Our Infants Act to help ensure that federal programs are more effective in helping expectant mothers struggling with opioid abuse receive the help they need to have healthy babies.

 

In 2016, we passed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act to give new authorities to states including grants to expand access to naloxone and provide a comprehensive response of education, prevention, treatment, and recovery.

 

Also in 2016, we passed the 21st Century Cures Act and included $1 billion over two years in state grants to address the opioid crisis.

 

Congress is considering in the Appropriations process approving additional funding as well. ***

In December, Senator Murray and I sent a letter to every governor and state insurance commissioner asking if these laws are working and how the federal government can be the best partner for states.

 

We have heard back from 21 governors and 11 state health officials, in addition to the feedback we heard at the roundtable this week.

Governor Haslam suggested additional funding to encourage states to share data in their Prescription Drug Monitoring Systems – something we talked about at our hearing last week. I think this is one of the most promising areas where the federal government can be helpful to states.

 

Former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe suggested that we support research on non-opioid pain management.

 

I’ve encouraged Dr. Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health, to use additional research money Congress has appropriated to focus on finding a non-addictive painkiller and Sen. Murray and I introduced legislation last month to give him more flexible authority to do that.

 

This committee hopes to approve that piece of legislation, as well as others, later this spring, so that we can recommend those bills to the full Senate to vote on. So it is helpful to have the input from the governors here today, as well as the written responses from other governors and state insurance commissioners.

 

I am looking forward to hearing what Oregon and Maryland are doing to address this crisis, and what lessons can be learned.

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