Three days after the Washington Post Story and the October 15, 60 Minutes report on Congressional interference with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) effort to go after the opioid wholesale drug distributors, the Washington Post hosted a forum, Addiction in America, A Nation Responds.
The Wednesday forum include a short video on one particular Pennsylvania community’s experiences with the opioid crisis, There’s No Peace: The Toll of Opioids. It also included a family who lost their son to addiction last year. Also speaking were three Senators and the reporters that worked on the Post story and the 60 Minutes broadcast.
The forum opened with a husband and wife who lost their son due to an opioid overdose late last year. Todd and Dorie Burke described how their son went from a foot injury that resulted in prescribed opioids for pain relief to drug addiction. He had completed one treatment but then relapsed and eventually overdosed in his bedroom, all with about a one-year period after that first prescription.
After the discussion with reporters the forum moved onto a discussion with Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Senator Rob Portman (D-OH) and Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV). The three Senators all come from states that could vie for the title as the epicenter of the opioid drug epidemic. All have been attempting to enact various forms of legislation to address the problem. They were all heavily invested in Senator Portman efforts in crafting the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) and all have additional legislation.
Senator Manchin has legislation, S. 523, the Budgeting for Opioid Addiction Treatment Act that would impose a 1 cent fee on each opioid prescription that would raise between one and a half to $2 billion for substance use treatment. Senator Portman is attempting to pass S 372, the STOP ACT, a bill that would increase monitoring of the mails to cut-off the flow of fentanyl which is a substance leading to increased drug overdose deaths. The supply chain generally runs through the internet from China through the mails into the United States. Portman said that he had tried to get the provisions in last year’s CARA Act but that was stopped in the House.
All were asked about the, ‘Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act.” ’This is the legislation spearheaded by Congressman Tom Marino (R-PA) that is blamed for the restrictions on the DEA enforcement. Hassan and Manchin said they were cosponsoring legislation to repeal it while Portman said he was examining it and the issue. He pointed out that DEA enforcement went down before the enactment. The news reports indicate that the Congressional pressure started before the bill was enacted in April 2016. The three Senators talked about the impact on their states and families with Senator Manchin saying that in West Virginia they cannot find foster homes and some are even talking about orphanages.
The key Senator for the DEA bill has been Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) who has defended his role. Ironically the Committee he chairs, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on February 23, 2016. Examining the Opioid Epidemic: Challenges and Opportunities. Almost three weeks later the Senate version of the bill would make it out of the Judiciary Committee and pass the Senate by Unanimous Consent (UC) and pass the House a month later.
The National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS) submitted a statement for the Finance Committee record in which they highlighted the Marino bill as part of their proposed solution to opioid overuse. There statement argues: “This legislation would promote cooperation among key government agencies, such as DEA and FDA, to jointly identify obstacles to legitimate patient access to controlled substances, issues with diversion of controlled substances, and how collaboration between law enforcement agencies and healthcare stakeholders can benefit patients and prevent diversion and abuse of controlled substances.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee has said they would hold a hearing on the legislation. The panel discussion finished up with the key reporters for the Washington Post and 60 Minutes who worked in collaboration on the story.
Congressman Marino had been nominated by the President to head up the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), informally the position is called the “Drug Czar.” After the twin reports on Sunday October 15 and after the President failed to give him a vote of confidence, Congressman Marino withdrew his name for consideration by Tuesday, October 7.
The President did indicate last week that he would declare the opioid epidemic as a national emergency. It is not clear what that would mean in part because it will depend on how the President crafts such a declaration.