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Senate Subcommittee Convenes Hearing on Opioid Epidemic

By: Shelley Starkey

On Tuesday, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies held a hearing to discuss the opioid epidemic and how Congress should address prevention, treatment, and recovery for opioid use disorders. The hearing convened national leaders on the issue, including the representatives of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), National Institutes of Health (NIH), and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Discussion highlighted the expansion of the Certified Community Health Center (CCBHC) demonstration as a way to dramatically expand opioid addiction treatment capacity in more states.


Those present disagreed on whether President Trump’s declaration of a public health emergency back in October was effective in channeling resources to combat the epidemic. Subcommittee Chairman Roy Blunt (R-MO), applauded Trump’s efforts thus far, and cautioned that there will be no singular solution to reversing this epidemic. Meanwhile, full Committee Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Subcommittee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA), and former Democratic Congressman Patrick Kennedy directly criticized the President’s strategies as being inadequate to address the full scope of the problem.

Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) echoed Mr. Kennedy’s concerns that the federal government had not provided adequate funding for states to combat the epidemic. Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz, Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), testified that SAMHSA has been looking for resources to provide additional funding to states that have been hit hardest by opioid addiction.


Chairman Blunt pointed to the Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic (CCBHC) demonstration program that is currently ongoing in eight states as a promising approach to addressing the epidemic, and encouraged support for the Excellence in Mental Health and Addiction Treatment Expansion Act, legislation that would expand of the program. By prioritizing the provision of and access to high-quality behavioral health care, states would be better equipped to properly treat individuals struggling with opioid use disorders.

Dr. Francis Collins, Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), spoke to the importance of researching alternative, non-addictive pain management options, and expressed frustration with the inability to study Schedule I drugs, such as marijuana, due to their federal classification. In addition, Dr. Collins stressed that opioids are effective treatments for acute pain, but become more likely to cause an addiction the longer they are used.

Dr. Debra Houry, Director of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), highlighted the CDC’s provider education initiatives. The CDC hopes to educate health care providers in communities with exceptionally high opioid prescription rates about the dangers of overprescribing by sending CDC officials directly to them. The agency is also ramping up responsible prescribing training initiatives for physicians and nurse practitioners while they are still in school, and beyond with continuing education opportunities.

To watch the full hearing and to read witness’ testimony, visit the Subcommittee’s website here.