October 24th marks the 2-year anniversary of the largest congressional effort to combat a single drug crisis – the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act – being signed into law. This landmark law better equips communities to keep illicit opioids and fentanyl out and helps them defeat the opioid crisis. The SUPPORT Act also improves resources to support recovery efforts. In addition, there are provisions to help promote non-addictive alternatives to opioids for pain management and prevent addiction by boosting programs to monitor prescription drugs.
We lost nearly 450,000 people to opioid overdoses from 1999-2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The COVID-19 pandemic is worsening Americans’ mental health and, sadly, exacerbating the opioid crisis. Now more than ever, we know this work must continue. The SUPPORT Act has been the most significant effort from Congress, but it wasn’t ever intended to be our last step to fight the opioid crisis. The SUPPORT Act builds upon laws such as the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act and 21st Century Cures Act; and even as we are responding to the COVID-19 public health emergency, the Energy and Commerce Committee continues to advance bipartisan legislation to combat the opioid crisis.
An overflow of opioids into communities can create opportunities for diversion and addiction. As Rep. David McKinley (R-WV) said, the millions of opioids shipped to West Virginia equaled to “to 433 pills for every man, woman and child in the state.” The Energy and Commerce Committee put together a report on alleged pill dumping in West Virginia from an investigation started by then-Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR). In response to the committee’s findings, McKinley introduced bipartisan legislation – the Block, Report, And Suspend Suspicious Shipments Act – to prevent pill dumping. In addition to reporting suspicious orders, which drug manufacturers and distributors are already required to do, this bipartisan bill also would make these companies stop and investigate suspicious orders. This is to make sure what happened in the Kermit, West Virginia never happens again. In this small town, nearly 9 million opioids were distributed to one pharmacy in the community of around 400 people in a two-year period.
Two additional bills from the Energy and Commerce Committee aim to curb the opioid epidemic through tightening requirements on registrations to legally distribute controlled substances, like opioids. One bill from Communications and Technology Subcommittee Republican Leader Bob Latta – the DEBAR Act – would help keep these registrations from bad actors by taking away their ability to quickly get a new registration after it has been taken away. Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA), author of the second bill, has said, “Licenses to distribute an opioid are not a commodity to be freely bought and sold.” Griffith’s bill – the Ensuring Compliance Against Drug Diversion Act – would strengthen registration requirements to make sure only registrants that have gone through the vetting process are distributing opioids, not someone who was given or bought a registration to do so.
At an Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee hearing this year to examine how several states are using funding to mitigate the opioid epidemic, Energy and Commerce Committee Republican Leader Greg Walden (R-OR) called for “a comprehensive series of hearings to conduct oversight of the implementation of the SUPPORT Act.” E&C Republicans want oversight to ensure the SUPPORT Act is being implemented and working how Congress intended.
Thanks to the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act, communities have more resources and tools to combat the opioid crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic has made it more challenging for communities to recover, but we are not giving up. Through oversight of the SUPPORT Act and by advancing more commonsense legislation, E&C Republicans will continue our fight until every community has defeated the opioid crisis.