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Washington Focuses on Opioids This Week, For Better or Worse

This was the unofficial “Week of Opioids” in the capital city.

The opioids theme had strong momentum following a rare public health advisory about naloxone and opioid overdose by Surgeon General Jerome Adams late last week. On Wednesday, the Senate Health, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, House Oversight subcommittee, and House Energy & Commerce (E&C) Health Subcommittee all held opioids hearings, while Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke (D-NY-9) hosted a congressional briefing on the Opioid Crisis in the Black Community. Then on Thursday, a controversial “Prescribed to Death” memorial devoted solely to people who have died from Rx drug overdoses was unveiled in the Ellipse outside of the White House with President Trump’s blessing.

In congress, the
House Oversight subcommittee heard from Illinois-, Ohio- and West Virginia-based witnesses about local responses to the opioid crisis, while the HouseE&C Health Subcommittee discussed Medicare and Medicaid's ability to provide care, with testimony from Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services administrator Kim Brandt and Michael Botticelli, former Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. The Senate HELP Committee’s hearing focused on the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018, a bill proposed by Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander and Ranking Member Patty Murray, which collects more than two dozen bipartisan proposals ranging from research at National Institutes of Health and jobs for people in recovery at the Department of Labor, to permanent amendments of the Controlled Substances Act that lift buprenorphine patient limits for physicians and permanently allow nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants to prescribe it.

Legislation featured in the hearings is to be scheduled for mark-ups in the coming weeks by a fast-moving Congress that aims to vote on a series of opioid crisis bills before Memorial Day, when Congressional offices turn their attention to the upcoming election season. Some Democrats, like House E&C ranking member Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), think the process is moving a little too quickly.

“I am concerned that the sheer quantity of bills before the Committee today and the Chairman’s extremely ambitious timeframe will not leave us much time to get these policies right,” Rep. Pallone said, referencing the 34 bills the House E&C Health Subcommittee was expected to review over 2 days. “At times, to me, this process feels more like an opioids media blitz than a thoughtful discussion about our national public health crisis.”

Despite the protestations of Rep. Pallone and others advocating caution and deliberation in legislating the opioid crisis, expect Congress to vote for bipartisan-supported opioid legislation in the coming months.

The Opioid Crisis in the Black Community Congressional Briefing, hosted by Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke in conjunction with the National Medical Association, National Black Nurses Association, and National Dental Association, challenged the narrative that today’s opioid epidemic is predominantly impacting white communities. Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams, MD, MPH gave remarks to open the meeting, following a week of public appearances in which he commented about the overdose and infectious disease consequences of the crisis at the recent National Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit in Atlanta and on a visit to Kentucky.

The National Safety Council's "Prescribed to Death" memorial launched on April 12th in the Ellipse in President’s Park, and it will remain up through April 18th. The memorial, which consists of 22,000 white pills that have had the faces of those who have overdosed from Rx drugs in 2015 mechanically etched into them, excludes those who have overdosed from non-Rx opiates, with a promotional video retweeted by the President going so far as to refer to heroin users as “junkies”. Read Maia Szalavitz’s report New Opioid Memorial Demeans People Who Died From Painkiller Overdoses to learn more.

Posted By: AIDS United, Policy Department - Friday, April 13, 2018

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