Bipartisan Committee Leaders Continue to Press DEA for Overdue Answers on Alleged Pill Dumping in West Virginia
WASHINGTON, DC – The Energy and Commerce Committee, chaired by Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), today held a hearing on federal efforts to combat the opioid crisis.
“The primary purpose of this hearing is to hear from the federal agencies charged with implementing the provisions of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) and the 21st Century Cures Act,” said Chairman Walden during his opening remarks. “But it also allows this committee to have an important conversation with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).”
Chairman Walden detailed the committee’s ongoing bipartisan investigation into alleged pill dumping in the state of West Virginia, adding, “It is time for DEA to get this committee the information we need, and to do it quickly. No more dodges. No more delays.”
#FullCmte Vice Chairman Joe Barton (R-TX) followed Chairman Walden’s directive to DEA, saying, “Now if I were you, I would go back, get the answers in plain English, as quickly as possible. …It is inexcusable when people are dying every day from opioid overdoses… .”
Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) followed up on Chairman Walden’s question about when the committee will receive a response from DEA regarding the outstanding questions. Mr. Neil Doherty, Deputy Assistant Administrator, Office of Diversion Control, DEA, responded saying, “We will expedite that information after the hearing.” Rep. DeGette continued to press Mr. Doherty on the timeframe of DEA’s upcoming response, asking if it would come in “One week? One month? One year?” Mr. Doherty responded saying he was unable to put a timeframe on when the committee would receive a response.
Witnesses included officials from the FDA, SAMHSA, DEA, CDC, and NIH’s NIDA
Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH) stressed the urgency of efforts to combat the opioid crisis by highlighting a recent visit he made to Field of Hope, a faith-based non-profit treatment facility in his district. “In hearing the stories of the dozens of men, women, and children impacted by the work done by organizations like Field of Hope, it becomes glaringly apparent that we’re in danger of losing an entire generation.”
Rep. Susan Brooks (R-IN) highlighted a provision included in CARA that she authored with fellow committee member, Rep. Joseph Kennedy III (D-MA), to establish an interagency taskforce to review and update CDC’s best practices prescribing guidelines.
Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz, Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), relayed the good news that the taskforce, which needs to be formed by December 2018, is on its way to being established. Dr. McCance-Katz relayed that the application period for participants has closed and the agency is currently in the process of finalizing those participants.
Dr. Scott Gottlieb, FDA Commissioner, said he looked forward to continuing to work with the committee to identify other ways the agency can contribute to the shared effort to combat the epidemic. Dr. Gottlieb specifically highlighted the agency’s plans to step up oversight of synthetic drugs moving through mail facilities.
Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) asked the witnesses if any current statutes prevent their respective staffs from responding to the opioid crisis.
In addressing recent news reports making the case that a bill that became law last Congress has made it more difficult for DEA to do its job, Mr. Doherty responded to Rep. Blackburn’s question, saying, “One of our administrative tools, an Immediate Suspension Order, recently came under report in the media. We would be happy to work with Congress and we look forward to working with Congress, with Department of Justice oversight to ensure that from an enforcement – criminal enforcement perspective, a civil sanction perspective, and an administrative perspective, which are all tools that we use to prevent the diversion of licit pharmaceuticals. We would be more than happy to work, as I said, with Congress, with Department of Justice oversight to ensure that we have the most updated and applicable tools moving forward to attack the opioid crisis.”
Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) followed up on Rep. Blackburn’s questioning, asking Mr. Doherty if DEA has made any communication with the committee about the need to change the statue of the law in question. Mr. Doherty responded by saying, “Not to my knowledge, sir, no.”
For more information on today’s hearing, including a background memo, witness testimony, and archived webcast, click here.