Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, members of the Energy and Commerce Committee have continued working alongside the Trump administration to address the opioid and addiction crisis in our country. Just last week, the committee, which has been advancing policy and developing recommendations to help with COVID-19 response efforts, took further action to combat the opioid epidemic. On Monday, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that millions of dollars are on the way to aid with the opioid and overdoes crisis in rural communities. Further, to continue to raise awareness, this week has been designated as Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week by President Donald Trump, and we are reminded that we must continue moving forward to combat the opioid crisis -- even and especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Energy and Commerce Committee has a history of bipartisan efforts to tackle the opioid epidemic. In fact, in 2018, under then-Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR), the committee passed the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act, the largest congressional effort to tackle a single drug epidemic. At last week's markup, bipartisan bills resulting from E&C's opioid investigations were advanced to the House floor. Rep. David McKinley (R-WV) spoke about his bill to stop suspicious opioid shipments after media reports and an E&C investigation into pill dumping found a pharmacy in a small town of just 406 people in West Virginia distributed almost 9 million opioids. While speaking about his bill, McKinley reminded us of the serious toll the opioid crisis continues to take on our country.
"Last year we experienced nearly 72,000 deaths across this country. In fact, overdose deaths are actually up 13% since last year. In West Virginia, more people have died from drug overdoses than have died from COVID," said McKinley.
In addition to making sure suspicious shipments are stopped, only people who are vetted by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) should be dispensing controlled substances. Rep. Morgan Griffith's (R-VA) bill would ensure just that by prohibiting people and businesses from simply transferring licenses.
"Licenses to distribute an opioid are not a commodity to be freely bought and sold. The people applying for that license and are in charge of it need to earn it," said Griffith.
Communications and Technology Subcommittee Republican Leader Bob Latta's (R-OH) bill also strengthens licensing by keeping bad actors from easily getting their hands on another license to distribute controlled substances.
"I introduced H.R. 4806, the Debarment Enforcement of Bad Actor Registrants (DEBAR) Act to ensure that bad actors are not able to legally register to manufacture, distribute, or dispense a controlled substance. Currently, Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) registrants that have had their registration revoked are able to reapply immediately for a new license," said Latta.
Though we are better equipped to protect our communities and have more treatment options available from bipartisan bills such as the SUPPORT and 21st Century Cures Acts, we still have a long way to go to help our communities fully recover from and defeat the opioid crisis. None of these historic efforts were meant to be the final solution. More actions will surely need to be taken as the COVID-19 pandemic worsens the substance abuse and overdose crises, but as the committee demonstrated with recently advancing more bills -- and the Trump administration with new awards and raising awareness -- we are all still committed to combating the opioid crisis.