Speeches & Floor Statements

Opening Statement: Alexander: Federal Government Should Be the Best Possible Partner for States on Front Lines of Opioid Crisis “Ravaging” Our Country

Posted on November 30, 2017

The toll of the opioid crisis that is ravaging our country is staggering.

One of our witnesses today, Dr. Abubaker, has personally experienced the heartbreak that opioid addiction causes.

His son, Adam, as a 17 year old, was prescribed 90 Vicodin pills for a minor shoulder injury.

Adam developed an addiction and overdosed four years later on a mixture of drugs including heroin

I am grateful Dr. Abubaker is here to tell his family’s heartbreaking story and share the work he has done to educate other doctors about prescribing opioids.

As Dr. Abubaker has said, “People from all walks of life… have had problems. It has nothing to do with where you live, or where you came from. You could be the president. You could be the son of a doctor.”

Last month, this committee held the first in a series of hearings this Congress on the opioid crisis – a crisis that is tearing our communities apart, tearing families apart, and posing an enormous challenge to health care providers and law enforcement officials.

That hearing was focused on the federal response to the opioid crisis, and today we will hear from those on the front lines: our witnesses represent states, communities and providers and will share what they are doing and what, if any, changes are needed to federal law to fight the crisis.

These witnesses come from four different states and have personal and professional perspectives on the opioid crisis from the judicial and public health sectors.

We hope to hold an additional hearing early next year as we build on our work from last Congress – which included passing the 21st Century Cures Act, which appropriated $1 billion over two years for state grants, and the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which created new programs to address the crisis.

I mentioned some of the tragic statistics of this crisis at our last hearing, but they are worth repeating:  The amount of opioids prescribed in the U.S. in 2015 was enough for every American to be medicated around the clock for three weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Across the country, 91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.

In my home state of Tennessee, 1,631 Tennesseans died of a drug overdose last year --12 percent more than the year before—mostly due to an increase in overdoses of synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, a pain medication that is 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine and can kill with just a small dose.

It seems that every day, there are new studies and statistics that further describe the toll of this crisis.

For example, last week the White House Office of Economic Advisers released a report that estimated the opioid crisis cost $504 billion in 2015.

As we talk about this crisis from a state perspective, I hope to hear from our witnesses:

How are different state departments—medical, public health, and judicial systems—working together in a collaborative way to address this crisis?

What innovative approaches are states taking to address the distinct challenges they face?

For example, Rhode Island is working to connect individuals who overdose with recovery coaches while they receive treatment in hospital emergency departments to try to get people into treatment and break their cycle of addiction in the long term.

The federal government remains an important partner in the opioid crisis. Earlier this month, the President’s Commission on Combatting Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis released recommendations, and I hope our witnesses will touch on some of those today.

We also want to know what is being done with the tools and resources provided in CARA and Cures, whether these laws are helping make progress, and, if not, why not. 

This past spring, the administration began issuing grants funded by Cures for states to use to combat the opioid crisis, totaling $485 million to all 50 states.

Because each state is facing different challenges in responding to the crisis, it is important that states have flexibility in how to use the money.

Tennessee received nearly $14 million of that money. 

Tennessee is using that money to: Distribute naloxone, a drug that can reverse an overdose, and train people how to use it to reduce the number of overdose deaths; Expand access to medication-assisted treatment; and Implement strategies to help reduce the number of babies born who experience withdrawal from opioids.

In the last ten years, Tennessee has seen a nearly 10-fold rise in the incidence of babies born addicted to opioids.

Other states are using the grants from Cures to address different needs within their states.

For example, Arkansas is using its grant to expand access to buprenorphine, a medication-assisted treatment.

Other states are using funds to improve state-run prescription drug monitoring programs – the electronic databases that can track controlled substances prescribed by doctors and dispensed by pharmacists. That way, doctors can see whether a patient has already been prescribed an opioid by another doctor across the street.

I’m eager to hear how these programs are run in your states and if there are things that can be done at the federal level to help improve coordination and data-sharing at the state level.