Shaquita Ogletree & Macey Shambery

The Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) committee held the sixth hearing on the opioid crisis with testimony from Governor Larry Hogan (R-MD) and Governor Kate Brown (D-OR) to look at leadership and innovation in the states. Chairman Alexander (R-TN) opened the meeting with the latest statistics from the CDC (see earlier article) and Ranking Member Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) stated that 115 people die every day from this national problem and that we should treat it as a health issue.

Governor Hogan signed an executive order to declare a State of Emergency in Maryland in response to the opioid crisis. Maryland also enacted a task force to analyze the state’s crisis and develop recommendations. Taking a four-prong approach with education, prevention, treatment, and enforcement; Maryland has been proactive and diligent about addressing the crisis. However, the rise of fentanyl has complicated the original plans of action due to distribution methods. Governor Hogan called for federal assistance to stop fentanyl from being shipped and smuggled in from China and Mexico.

Noting that, “60% of foster children in Oregon have a parent with a substance abuse issue,” Governor Brown discussed Oregon’s prescription drug monitoring program. The program requires prescribers to register, and it includes electronic health records so prescribers can make holistic decisions regarding their patient’s care. Brown would like to see increased access to treatment, better insurance coverage, increased availability of overdose drugs, and an improved data-sharing program. Oregon has also created an Opioid Epidemic Task Force to address the opioid epidemic.

Governor Brown shared two personal stories, one about a teenager being prescribed painkillers after an accident only to be addicted and overdose at the age of 25 and the other story of her stepson who abused opioids as well. In seeking treatment, Governor Brown and her family was faced with the reality of insurance policy not covering a residential program. She told the committee that they should focus on increasing treatment and resources for patients. Her recommendation for the federal government is to focus on this problem as a public health issue rather than punishment, as well as improving data sharing between states.

Senator Warren (D-MA) raised questions regarding the need to hold drug manufacturing companies accountable for knowingly selling drugs not approved or without fully disclosing side effect.

In a question to the Oregon Governor, Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) asked how the federal government could be helpful in supporting families knowing that in Oregon sixty percent of children in foster care have at least one parent with substance abuse or alcohol addiction. Governor Brown discussed the role that many grandparents are playing by stepping in to raise their grandchildren and that in Oregon courts utilized one family court for the entire family when involved in the child welfare system.

Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) referenced her legislation, the Family-Based Care Services Act (endorsed by CWLA) that would provide home-based health and mental health services to children in need of therapeutic services in foster care through Medicaid. Governor Brown acknowledged that intensive foster care programs are expensive, but the long-term investment early on is cost-effective in the future.

Additional recommendations provided to the committee included additional funding beyond the $6 billion that Congress has agreed to spend over the next two years. Such increases in funding to states, as proposed by Senator Hassan (D-NH), would mean expanding access to health care including equipping first responders with naloxone and substance and alcohol abuse treatment.