Key House oversight panel to hear from state officials on front lines of fight to curb opioid epidemic
Federal lawmakers want to know ‘what’s working and what’s not’ as they search for ways to stem nationwide crisis
WASHINGTON, D.C. – As federal lawmakers search for ways to curb the nation’s opioid epidemic, a key Congressional oversight panel tomorrow will hear directly from state health officials on the front lines of the fight to curb the nation’s opioid epidemic about what’s working, and what’s not.
On Tuesday, Jan. 14, the House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations panel, led by U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO), will hold a hearing to hear first-hand how state officials have been using billions of dollars in federal funding that Congress has provided them in recent years to respond to the crisis.
Specifically, the lawmakers want to know what federally-funded efforts have proven to be successful in helping to curb the epidemic in various states, and which efforts have failed. They also want to know what additional tools and resources state health officials need going forward to better respond to the crisis as it continues to evolve.
“We are starting to make some progress,” DeGette said prior to the hearing, “but this crisis is far from over. Cities and towns throughout the country are struggling as a result of this epidemic. Lives have been shattered, families have been traumatized and entire communities have been devastated. We need to know what’s working, what’s not, and what else can be done to help those impacted by this crisis.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from 1999 to 2017, nearly 400,000 people in the U.S. died from opioid overdoses. In 2017, more than two-thirds of all drug overdose deaths involved opioids.
In September 2019, lawmakers on the panel sent letters to more than a dozen states seeking specific information about how they were using the federal funds they’ve been provided to address the crisis. In making the request, the committee members sought to better understand which state-led approaches have proven to be the most successful in stemming the crisis, which have failed, and what specific challenges state officials continue to face.
The committee received responses from all 16 states it requested information from and, now, top health officials from five of those states will testify before the panel Tuesday to explain in more depth the challenges they face and answer lawmakers’ questions.
Congress has provided states billions of dollars in recent years to help combat the nation’s opioid epidemic. In 2018, Congress approved legislation – known as the SUPPORT Act – that authorized opioid-specific funding for states to expand their substance-use disorder treatment programs and increase overdose-prevention training, among other things.
That legislation also provided law enforcement with new tools to help further combat the flow of illicit opioids into communities across the country.
As part of its annual appropriations funding bills over the last three years, Congress has provided more than $6.5 billion to help combat the opioid crisis – including $4 billion it has provided directly to states to help them fund additional treatment and prevention efforts within their borders.
Tomorrow, health officials from some of the hardest hit states – including Rhode Island, Massachusetts, North Carolina, West Virginia and Pennsylvania – will testify before the panel about how their state has spent millions of dollars in federal funding it has received to combat the crisis, and which of those efforts have proven most successful.
Officials in Pennsylvania, for example, used some of the federal funds it received to distribute thousands of naloxone kits free of charge. Officials in North Carolina said they used some of the funding they received to provide treatment to 12,000 people who were uninsured, while officials in Rhode Island said they used some of the money it got to provide additional medication-assisted treatment in its prison system.
Tomorrow’s hearing will begin at 10:00 a.m. ET in room 2123 of the Rayburn House Office Building. It will also be streamed LIVE online at the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n4DS2xD4qsQ
Following is the full list of witnesses set to testify Tuesday:
Nicole Alexander-Scott, M.D.
Director, Department of Health
State of Rhode Island
Monica Bharel, M.D.
Commissioner, Department of Public Health
Commonwealth of Massachusetts
Deputy Secretary, Behavioral Health and Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Department of Health and Human Services
State of North Carolina
Commissioner, Bureau for Behavioral Health
Department of Health and Human Resources
State of West Virginia
Secretary, Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania