GOP “Opioid Week” Fails to Adequately Respond to Crisis
Washington, D.C. (June 28, 2018)—Today, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, issued the following statement at the conclusion of House Republicans’ so-called “Opioid Week,” which actually extended over parts of the past two weeks:
“The Republican ‘Opioid Week’ was an exercise in strong rhetoric and weak legislation. We are facing the most devastating health crisis in a generation, and experts have made crystal clear that we need sustained, dedicated funding to increase access to treatment across the country. I commend the bipartisan bills we passed last week, but while they would do some good things, they are simply inadequate to address the opioid crisis. No Member of Congress should be touting these bills as a comprehensive response to the opioid crisis because when the next statistics come out, they likely will show continuing increases in deaths, emergency room visits, and economic costs to the American people. I am very disappointed that House Republicans would not allow a vote on my bill with Senator Warren—The CARE Act—but I am encouraged that this legislation is gaining so much traction in the House.”
Failure of House Republicans “Opioid Week” to Address Crisis with Real Treatment Funding
However, none of the bills provides sufficient long-term, dedicated funding to increase access to treatment. The House considered more than 50 bills, many of which were strongly supported by Democrats. Some would merely require additional government studies on the opioid epidemic. A few of the bills would enhance prevention efforts and increase access to treatment and recovery services.
But experts warn that these efforts provide only a fraction of the stable, long-term investments in treatment infrastructure and wrap-around services needed to effectively combat this staggering crisis:
- Dr. Leana Wen, the Baltimore City Health Commissioner, and Dr. Rahul Gupta, the West Virginia State Health Officer and Commissioner, said: “Congress’ proposed solutions are tinkering around the edges of this crisis.”
- Joshua Sharfstein, a Vice Dean of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University and the former Health and Mental Hygiene Secretary in Maryland, said: “I didn’t really see that many groundbreaking proposals.”
- G. Caleb Alexander, Co-Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Drug Safety and Effectiveness, said the lack of treatment funding is the “elephant in the room,” and that “without money behind them, the bills aren’t going to do a whole lot.”
Growing Support for Cummings’ CARE Act—But Republicans Refuse to Allow Debate or Vote
On April 18, 2018, Cummings introduced H.R.5545, the Comprehensive Addiction Resources Emergency (CARE) Act, with Senator Elizabeth Warren. More than 60 Members of the House have now joined the bill as cosponsors, including the entire House Democratic leadership:
Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi
Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer
Assistant Democratic Leader James E. Clyburn
Democratic Caucus Chair Joe Crowley
Democratic Caucus Vice-Chair Linda Sánchez
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Ben Ray Luján
Democratic Policy and Communications Committee Co-Chair Hakeem Jeffries
Democratic Policy and Communications Committee Co-Chair Cheri Bustos
Democratic Policy and Communications Committee Co-Chair David N. Cicilline
Democracy Reform Task Force Chair John Sarbanes
Committee Ranking Members Richard Neal (Ways and Means), Eliot E.Engel (Foreign Affairs), John Yarmuth (Budget), Adam Schiff (Intelligence), Jim McGovern (Rules), Peter DeFazio (Transportation and Infrastructure), and Eddie Bernice Johnson (Science, Space, and Technology)
The CARE Act has been endorsed by more than 30 groups representing health care professionals, local governments, and public health advocacy organizations. Several editorial boards have supported the idea of the CARE Act, including the New York Times and the Baltimore Sun.
Cummings offered his bill as an amendment during “Opioid Week”, but House Republicans blocked it from being considered. It would have been paid for by rolling back a portion of the Trump tax law that gives tax breaks to drug companies and other corporations. Drug companies have already announced $50 billion worth of stock buybacks to boost investor profits since the tax cuts were enacted.
The CARE Act would provide $100 billion in stable, long-term funding over the next decade, including:
- $4 billion per year to states, territories, and tribal governments, including $2 billion to states with the highest levels of overdoses, $1.6 billion through competitive grants, and $400 million for grants to tribal governments;
- $2.7 billion per year to the hardest hit counties and cities, including $1.43 billion to counties and cities with the highest levels of overdoses, $1 billion through competitive grants, and $270 million for grants to tribal governments;
- $1.8 billion per year for public health surveillance, biomedical research, and improved training for health professionals, including $1 billion for the National Institutes of Health, $400 million for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and regional tribal epidemiology centers, and $400 million to train and provide technical assistance to professionals treating substance use disorders;
- $1 billion per year to support expanded and innovative service delivery, including $500 million for public and nonprofit entities and $500 million for projects of national significance that provide treatment, prevention, recovery, and harm reduction services; and
- $500 million per year to expand access to the overdose reversal drug naloxone and provide this life-saving medicine to states to distribute to first responders, public health departments, and the public.
Failure of Trump Administration to Address Crisis—No Strategy or Leadership
Since President Trump took office, he has failed to issue a National Drug Control Strategy. The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), created in 1988, is tasked with coordinating the nation’s drug control efforts and should be leading the response to this unprecedented crisis. Although it is charged with producing the National Drug Control Strategy by February 1 of each year, the Trump Administration has failed to produce any strategy at all.
In addition, there have been multiple reports of dysfunction within the Trump Administration’s drug control efforts:
- According to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, President Trump tasked Kellyanne Conway “to coordinate and lead the effort from the White House” to respond to the opioid crisis. Sessions said she was chosen because she “is exceedingly talented” and “understands messaging.” However, reports indicate that since Conway took on this role, “President Donald Trump’s war on opioids is beginning to look more like a war on his drug policy office” because she is “quietly freezing out drug policy professionals and relying instead on political staff to address a lethal crisis.”
- Tyler Weyeneth, a 24-year old former intern on the Trump campaign, was appointed Deputy Chief of Staff at ONDCP after the White House “reassigned an experienced ‘career incumbent’ civil servant to create room for him.” According to press reports, he “worked on a plan to cut staff” and to “draw attention to the office’s work under Trump.” He was demoted and then fired after reports cast doubts on his qualifications and his resume.
- One long-time former ONDCP staffer warned that ONDCP has become a “dumping ground for campaign workers.”
One bipartisan bill passed this week—H.R. 5925, the Coordinated Response through Interagency Strategy and Information Sharing (CRISIS) Act—was cosponsored by Cummings and Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy to reauthorize ONDCP. This bill would improve drug control efforts if it is fully funded and implemented, including by expanding the Office’s authority to direct resources where they are needed most, strengthening data collection and analysis to track the changing dimensions of the crisis, and creating a new Treatment Coordinator position to coordinate efforts to expand the availability and quality of evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders. However, even if it is fully funded and implemented, this bill will not provide the resources needed to expand treatment for individuals suffering from the disease of addiction, and the drug crisis will likely continue to worsen.