Initial progress on opioids, but work remains

October 23, 2019

Initial progress on opioids, but work remains 

By Greg Walden

A year ago, Republicans and Democrats worked together to pass the nation’s most historic effort to combat the opioid crisis — the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act. President Trump signed the bill into law on October 24, 2018. Today, we are seeing fewer people die from overdose deaths and more people are getting medical care for their substance use disorder. Local caregivers and organizations are getting new funds to help provide assistance to those in need all across Oregon and the nation.

But despite this progress, the opioid epidemic remains, and it does not discriminate — taking an estimated 130 lives a day in the U.S. In Oregon, 344 deaths occurred in 2017 alone. These numbers are shocking, but they fail to encompass the challenges faced by those struggling with addiction and their families seeking to help. Those like Mike and Winnie from Grants Pass who shared with me how their son started using oxycodone as a teenager and soon made the transition to the cheaper, more potent heroin. Thankfully, their son is still with us, but he struggles daily with his addiction. Sadly, I’ve heard similar stories all across Oregon of those fighting with addiction.

As chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, I directed our team to investigate allegations of opioid-dumping in West Virginia where, for example, a town of 392 people received over 9 million pills over the span of two years. Through our investigation, we found that many wholesale drug distributors and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) were missing critical warning signs and red flags. We took our new findings and paired them with input from my colleagues across the country and those on the front lines of the epidemic. We combined more than 55 pieces of bipartisan legislation into one comprehensive measure named the SUPPORT Act. The legislation attacks the crisis from four angles: expanding access to treatment and recovery, boosting prevention efforts, protecting communities and stopping the illicit fentanyl from coming into our country.

We have made progress in part due to the SUPPORT Act, but as we approach this one-year anniversary of the bill becoming law, it’s clear the great battle of addiction and drug overdose continues. Over the last year alone, the opioid epidemic has taken more lives than the entire Vietnam War. And during a recent community meeting in La Pine a mother showed me photos of her son who died this summer from an overdose.

Going forward, I hope Congress will move forward on legislation to give law enforcement the additional tools necessary to get illegal drugs off the streets while still allowing for proper use in public health and research capacities. Another bill would ensure that health care providers have necessary access to full medical history of any patient suffering from a substance use disorder so they don’t accidentally prescribe an opioid to a patient who is in recovery. Of course, we must also continue our bipartisan investigations that we started last Congress to ensure that bad actors who are contributing to the spread of illicit drugs are stopped and held accountable. As we commemorate the one-year anniversary of the SUPPORT Act, let’s recommit ourselves to the work that lies ahead. Together we made real progress and together we can do even more to help those who need it most. Families deserve no less.