Grassley on Passage of the Opioid Crisis Response Act
Prepared Remarks Submitted to the Record by Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee
Chairman, Caucus on International Narcotics Control
On the Passage of the Opioid Crisis Response Act
September 18, 2018
Mr. President, last night was a great moment for the Senate.
We’ve been able to pass a broad legislative package that will address the opioid epidemic in many ways. As we all know, the opioid crisis is not nearing its end. We are seeing more and more Americans abuse opioid drugs every year. In 2016, there were 64,000 overdose deaths, and this number rose to a staggering 72,000 deaths in 2017. Right now, more than 115 people in the United States die from opioid overdoses every day. In Iowa last year, more than 200 people died from opioid misuse. If there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s that no segment of society has been left untouched. The crisis has affected people all over this country. Communities throughout the United States are desperate for answers.
While overcoming this crisis cannot be accomplished overnight, the passage of the Opioid Crisis Response Act is a huge step in the right direction. This legislation is a collection of more than 70 proposals from four different committees here in the Senate, including Judiciary where I led six different bills through committee. It’s important to highlight how well we worked together on both sides of the aisle – and across the aisle – to get to this point. This was a massive bipartisan effort.
On behalf of Judiciary, not a single bill passed through committee without wide bipartisan support. The Judiciary Committee contributed six separate bills – each with different sponsors – to this larger piece of legislation. I worked with my Judiciary colleagues to get near unanimous backing for each of the bills. That takes a lot of time and hard work. It takes some compromise. But we were able to get it done.
Several of the bills relate to Drug Enforcement Administration authorities. Those bills will help empower DEA to better identify and stop suspicious orders, gather more information when setting annual quotas for opioids, and facilitate the flow of information among drug manufacturers and distributors to enable better reporting decisions to warn DEA of potential problems.
I teamed up with my fellow Iowan – Senator Ernst – to promote higher participation in drug take-back programs so that unused, forgotten opioids don’t find their way from the medicine cabinet into unauthorized hands. Another bill successfully reported out of the Judiciary Committee reauthorizes the Office of National Drug Control Policy. ONDCP directs, crafts and coordinates the drug policy strategy for the entire nation. Its reauthorization sends a message to other federal agencies, and the country, that we will continue to have strong leadership guiding us through this crisis. Yet another bill closes a loophole addressing illegal actors peddling synthetic drugs, allowing law enforcement to better investigate and prosecute cases involving synthetics.
Outside of the Judiciary Committee legislation, this bill also includes several priorities of mine, including:
- Requiring drug manufacturers to publicly disclose payments made to nurse practitioners and physician assistants, just like doctors;
- Increasing access to substance abuse treatment in rural areas via telehealth; and
- Better data collection to make sure tax payer dollars are spent helping people who need help and not lining the pockets of crooks who take advantage of common people.
While I co-sponsored a number of bills in the opioid package, it is important to remember that this legislation is a team effort. The combination of bills from the Judiciary Committee, Commerce Committee, Finance Committee, and the HELP Committee broadly address the multiple facets of the epidemic. As we’ve learned through several Judiciary Committee hearings, we can’t focus on single issues as we combat this drug crisis. Rather, this legislation looks at the epidemic as a whole. From prevention, treatment, recovery, and enforcement efforts, the bill runs the gamut. It contains provisions on transparency in opioid prescribing, family-focused residential treatment options, education on drug abuse for youth, and tools for prosecuting peddlers of synthetic drugs.
The Opioid Crisis Response Act addresses the front-end of the problem through education and prevention, and also tackles the back-end through treatment and law enforcement solutions. I’d like to recognize my colleagues and thank them for their cooperative spirit and determined efforts to help develop and move this legislation forward. Without reaching across the aisle and working together, we wouldn’t be here. In particular, I’d like to thank Senator Alexander and his staff for their leadership in making this happen.
I am proud of the work we have done so far and look forward to continuing our bipartisan effort. Hopefully, this bill crosses the finish line and we get the President’s signature on a major piece of legislation. We certainly haven’t solved all of our drug problems, but I’ll continue to work hard to look for more ways that Congress can help. But for today, we can take a brief moment to recognize what we’ve done in passing this bill. It’s truly an important step in the right direction. This bill will serve Iowans and all Americans in our continued fight against the opioid crisis.