With overwhelming bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress, The SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act was signed into law by President Donald Trump on October 24, 2018. NBC News called the SUPPORT Act “…the most ambitious congressional push yet to address the growing opioid epidemic…” This landmark legislation unleashed comprehensive resources and tools put together by Members on both sides of the aisle to fight the opioid crisis. The SUPPORT Act combats the opioid epidemic from multiple angles – from helping those who need treatment to implementing efforts to prevent substance use disorders and keeping illicit opioids such as fentanyl out of communities. As we approach the 2-year anniversary of this bipartisan package being signed into law, we continue to examine findings from committee-led investigations and work on additional legislation to complement our efforts to combat the opioid crisis.
As Energy and Commerce Committee Republican Leader Greg Walden (R-OR) said at an oversight hearing this year, “This Committee has held hearings and conducted investigations on opioids and the opioid epidemic for nearly two decades…” Under then-Chairman Greg Walden’s leadership, the full committee started several investigations related to the opioid epidemic. Thanks to the committee-led work, the SUPPORT Act addressed some of the issues that were at the subject of these investigations. One of the investigations examined fentanyl, a substance so potent that a small amount equivalent to the size of a few salt grains, can be deadly. Part of this investigation was focused on preventing illegal opioids, including fentanyl, from coming into the United States via international mail facilities (IMFs) and preventing fentanyl, including fentanyl analogues, from getting into the country from China or Mexico. The committee also started an investigation into allegations of “patient brokering.” These patient brokers target individuals with substance use disorders, as well as their loved ones, and treat them as a commodity. As part of this investigation, the Committee focused on fraud, as well as advertising and marketing practices within the treatment industry. Another investigation focused on pill dumping, which resulted in a committee report that concludes with a series of recommendations and suggested legislative solutions, including a few that led to provisions in the SUPPORT Act. The report details numerous warning signs and red flags missed by wholesale drug distributors and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) that contributed to the worsening of the opioid epidemic in West Virginia. For example, in just two years millions of opioids were distributed to a single pharmacy in a town of less than 500 people.
E&C Republicans kicked off this year by relaunching an investigation into opioid manufacturers. Walden, Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Republican Leader Brett Guthrie (R-KY), and Representative Morgan Griffith (R-VA) demanded answers from three opioid manufacturers to examine the role of these manufacturers in the opioid epidemic. Just this week, Purdue Pharma, the manufacturer of OxyContin and one of the manufacturers in E&C Republicans’ investigation, pleaded guilty to criminal charges regarding their role in the opioid crisis. The E&C Republicans also recently pushed for more information from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Purdue Pharma’s OxyContin label change the FDA approved in 2001. In the letter, E&C Republican leaders wrote, “Purdue internal documents indicate that the company may have viewed the effect of the label change as an opportunity to expand its market.”
This week, E&C Republicans also sent a letter to the DEA questioning how the agency manages the country’s opioid supply.
E&C Republicans are pressing ahead with opioid investigations to uncover more findings in order to advance our fight against the opioid crisis.