Portman Outlines Steps the Trump Administration Can Take to Combat the Opioid Epidemic Right Now

May 3, 2017 | Press Releases

Urges Full Implementation of CARA

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) delivered remarks on the Senate floor to outline the steps the new administration can take right now to help combat the opioid epidemic. While Portman noted that the recent bipartisan agreement to fund the government that includes full funding for his bipartisan Comprehensive Addiction & Recovery Act and the CURES Act is a positive step, he said that there is more that can be done now to help save lives in Ohio and all across our country. Specifically, Portman urged the administration to fully implement CARA as quickly as possible to help turn this tide of addiction.

A transcript of the speech can be found below and you can watch the video here.

“I rise today to talk about an issue that affects every single Senator in this body and all of us as Americans. That’s this epidemic of drug use, opioids, which would be heroin, prescription drugs, the new synthetic heroins like fentanyl and carfentanil and U-4. It’s devastating our communities. This is the worst drug crisis we’ve ever had in this country. That’s my view, but it’s also the view of a lot of experts. In over 20 years I’ve never seen anything like it. That’s why I’ve come to the floor to talk again today. This is the 34th time that I’ve spoken on this issue here on the Senate floor in the last year or so. I come with sadness in my heart because it’s not getting better.  Based on the statistics that I’ve seen from my home state of Ohio and around the country for the first quarter of this year, it looks like the number of deaths and overdoses from drug abuse are increasing, not decreasing. 

“Part of it is because of these new drugs coming in, particularly synthetic drugs, these fentanyls and carfentanils, U-4, things that are produced in a laboratory by some evil scientist somewhere and shipped into our country. So the need to act has grown only more urgent. Every day we’re now losing 144 Americans to drug overdoses. Think about that. Every single day, 144 Americans are dying of drug overdoses. It’s now far exceeded the number of people who are dying of car accidents in my home state of Ohio, and it’s exceeding that number around the country. 

“Millions more are not dying of overdoses but are seeing their lives and their futures be ruined, and millions of us, those of us who are not drug addicted but have friends and family and neighbors who are, are watching loved ones as they fight this addiction. Maybe they have lost a job. Maybe they have broken relationships with families and friends. Maybe they have committed a crime like theft or shoplifting or fraud to pay for their habit. Maybe they have just given up hope. 

“Just last week, I met with some community leaders from Dayton, Ohio. As it happens no matter where I am in Ohio, this issue came up, and this is what they wanted to talk to me about. They wanted to talk to me about the story of Nathan Wylie. Nathan Wylie was a happy 13-year-old boy. He was a big Cincinnati Bengals fan. His goal in life was to be a professional football player. He wanted to play for the Bengals one day. He had his whole life ahead of him. Nathan’s dad, according to the police reports, is a heroin user. One day a few weeks ago, Nathan got into his dad’s heroin and he overdosed. His dad and his uncle took him to the fire station. The first responders did what they could. They took him to Dayton Children’s Hospital, but it was too late. Nathan died of an overdose at age 13. 

“Two weeks ago, a 14-year-old girl in Dayton was mowing the lawn of the apartment complex owned by her grandparents and she came upon a body on the ground. Turns out it was a 25-year-old young man who had died of an overdose. This is what’s happening in our communities. A few hours after this young man who had died of an overdose was discovered by this girl, Dayton police responded to a car accident on Route 35 where a man had driven through a barrier and knocked over a streetlight. Police arrived and found the driver passed out with a used needle on the floor of the car. In this case, they saved his life. They used this miracle drug called Naloxone or Narcan which reduces the loss of life because it reverses the effects of overdoses. It doesn’t always work, but it works the vast majority of the time if you get there in time. He was revived and he said he not only had just used heroin but he was on his way to get more. When he overdosed and almost died. 

“So I could go on. We see these headlines every day, not just in Dayton, Ohio, where I talked about these three cases but all throughout our state and our country. That’s why people are starting to take action to turn the tide, and I commend them for it. Last week, more than 500 religious leaders across northeast Ohio banded together and they said we’re going to do something about this. They took to their pulpits all at once to speak about this issue. A lot of them talked about National Drug Takeback Day which this past Saturday occurred. Father Bob Stec of St. Ambrose Parish in Brunswick, Ohio gave his parishioners a three-part action plan. One, get educated. Learn about these opioids. Learn about the connection between opiates and heroin. Four out of five heroin addicts, it’s believed, started out on prescription drugs. Number two, clear out unnecessary medications from your medicine cabinets. Unbelievable the number of people I have run into who have said they have started because they took prescription drugs and they got the prescription drugs, in one case, a young man told me from his grandmother’s medicine cabinet. Number three, he said, pray for our first responders. God bless them. Because they do save lives every day. In Ohio, 16,000 lives last year. Without them, the death toll would be far higher. And the damage to our community would be far greater. 

“They are as frustrated as anybody by this epidemic. They want to get to the bottom of it, focus more on prevention and treatment and recovery. They don’t want to keep applying Narcan to the same person again and again. So I want to thank Father Stec and all the other religious leaders for being willing to roll up their sleeves and to get involved. If they prevented even one addiction from starting, then they have made a permanent impact on the community, and I am convinced that those 500 pastors and ministers and rabbis, I’m convinced that they saved lives, convinced.

“People in Ohio are taking action in other ways, too. People are forming groups and particularly parent groups, those who have lost a child are banding together and talking about how they can not just console one another and support one another but put in place plans to help others. I was at a treatment center recently where it was recovering addicts around the table for the most part and the people who work there, but then there were a couple of families there. They spoke up. They are involved in this center. They come there every day. They are there because they lost a son or a daughter to overdose. And God bless them for stepping forward. 

“The federal government needs to do more, too. We need to take action here because we can be a better partner with states, with local communities, with families. It’s not going to be solved in Washington. Washington is not the solution, but it’s part of the solution. By being a better partner, we can take best practices from around the country as an example as we did in the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act which passed this chamber last year and spread those around the country so that every community has the opportunity to make a bigger difference. 

“Last week I met with Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey. He has a passion for this issue, and he is leading the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis. I thought it was a very good meeting. Governor Christie is serious about this. I think he’s going to be a constructive partner with Congress and with our president to help turn this tide. I’m glad he was selected, and I’m glad he has got the commission going. I will tell you, though, my message to him was twofold. One, I’m glad you’re doing this, but second, let’s take action. We don’t need another commission to study this problem to know that this is an area where Congress and the administration can work together to take action. And in fact, this agreement that we will vote on in the United States Senate this afternoon and again tomorrow to fund the government between now and the fiscal year-end actually includes a lot of good legislation to help with this crisis. 

“It fully funds the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act I talked about earlier, CARA. This legislation is the first comprehensive reform to federal addiction policy in two decades. It treats addiction like a disease, which it is. It focuses on prevention, education, treatment, recovery, helping our first responders with Narcan. It’s very comprehensive because that’s the only way we’re going to get at this issue, is do it in a very comprehensive way. The legislation we will vote on today and tomorrow also fully funds the 21st Century CURES Act, which includes, as part of it, more funding that goes directly to the states to deal with opioid addiction.

“In the funding bill, we have funded the CARA programs now at over $200 million for this fiscal year. That’s more than the bill authorizes, and that’s good news because we need it. It includes $103 million in grants from the Department of Justice for drug courts, veteran’s courts, and prescription drug monitoring programs. It also includes $114 million in Health and Human Services grants for Medicaid Assisted Treatment, treatment for pregnant and postpartum women and supplying Naloxone, this miracle drug that can actually reverse an overdose, also known as Narcan. This would help our first responders because it also provides training for them to be able to use it effectively. 

“It also includes $15 million authorized by CARA for the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to treat and prevent opioid addiction at the VA, as well as funding CARA’s recovery services. It’s the first time any federal law has ever focused on recovery. Not just the treatment but the longer term recovery. By the way, when there is a good recovery program, the rate of success is dramatically increased. Much improved, so it’s important that Congress is being a better partner with regard to recovery. Last week, the Department of Health and Human Services also announced $26 million would go out as part of the CURES Act I talked about to the state of Ohio. Every state in the Union applied for that money, and the states are now getting some funding that will be very helpful. I know that our governor and our legislature will put it to good use. 

“These are important steps. But I will tell you—and I said this to Governor Christie—by my count, there are at least six provisions of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act that have not been implemented yet by either the previous administration or this administration. By the way, this is nine months after CARA was signed into law. It’s time to implement these programs. Let’s get them all up and going. 

“We haven’t set up the pain management best practices interagency task force yet. What does that mean? We need a strategy for figuring out what the best practices are for pain management, for opioid prescribing and alternatives to potentially addictive opioids. This is really important. Think about it. Four out of five heroin addicts started on prescription drugs. Still when you go to the doctor or you’ve got an injury or an accident, it’s not unlikely they are going to give you some pills, and they will be prescription drugs and they will be addictive. We have got to be sure we are doing everything we can to come up with non-addictive forms of pain medication, right? If we don’t do that, we’re just going to have more and more of a problem. And stop the overprescribing. We have made some progress there but not enough. Still, when a young man or woman gets a wisdom tooth taken out, they should not be given opioids. This has happened too many times. 

“I met two families in Ohio who’s kid died from an overdose because as a teenager they went in to get wisdom tooth taken out and was given 60 pills, 60 percocets in one case, and then because they got physically addicted, ended up going to heroin as a cheaper and more accessible alternative and ended overdosing. That shouldn’t happen. So this is an important part. Let’s get this up and going, and let’s push back on overprescribing and let’s find ways for our pharmaceutical companies to produce medication that actually is not addictive, that can help with regard to pain management. 

“Second, we haven’t started the public awareness campaign about the dangers of opioid abuse and the links between these prescription drugs and the heroin and other dangerous drugs like synthetic heroin and fentanyl. Let’s do it. In the legislation we have authorized and now provided money for the federal government to do a national awareness campaign that lets people know about this. Because most of my constituents don’t know about it. When the doctor prescribes those pills, they think, the doctor prescribed it, this must be the right thing to do. Instead of taking maybe one or two, they are fine with having their kid or their brother or their sister or their mother or their father take the whole dose when they aren’t needed perhaps, because they don’t know about the link. They don’t know these pills are addictive. Just getting that information out there is going to save lives. And it’s an important part of turning the tide. Let’s do it. This public awareness campaign can be implemented now. 

“The Department of Health and Human Services has not yet released information on alternative treatment options for youth sports injuries and about how parents and kids can seek treatment if they become addicted as a result of a prescription. Why wouldn’t that make sense? Let’s do that. Let’s do it now. I have had unfortunately many instances of talking to parents about a kid who was injured in high school through a sports injury who was prescribed opioids, and again the parents, the kids, they don’t have the information to know how dangerous this can be. There is a guy I’ve worked with a lot on prevention who goes to colleges and high schools and talks about this. He talks about his son, Tyler. He was a football player. He must have been a great kid. I wish I had met him. But he had an injury. Of course the coach said play through it. And the doctor said if you take these pills, you can play through it. He became physically addicted. And again, later turned to heroin as a less expensive alternative because the pills were too expensive. Overdosed and died. His dad is channeling his grief into something really constructive. God bless him. 

“The FDA has not yet announced its action plan on approving new opioids. The legislation we wrote, again, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, says the FDA has to seek recommendations from an advisory committee before approving any new opioid and they have to label any new opioid that’s going to be used by kids, label it. The FDA has also opposed the issue of guidance to educate prescribers on this issue. They have not yet done that. Let’s do it. That action plan in approving new opioids is something that we can do. We don’t need another study or a commission to do it. Let’s do it. 

“The National Institutes of Health haven’t begun CARA’s clinical research into alternatives to opioids for treating chronic pain. The NIH should do that. Now, they may say after hearing this speech we’re starting to do it. That’s great. Let’s do it. But let’s get that information out there. Let’s use the NIH and all the great researchers we have there and the great tools we have there to come up with alternatives that are not addictive. 

“The Department of Justice has not yet expanded the prescription drug takeback programs. As I mentioned, National Prescription Drug Takeback Day was last Saturday. This is where you can dispose of your prescription drugs in a safe way. You know it’s going to go in a safe receptacle where some trafficker is not going to go and take the drugs and spread them around our community, which, by the way, has happened. This is a really important program, again, to get these painkillers out of the bathroom shelf. I mentioned a young man who got his grandmother’s pain pills. That’s how he started his addiction. Get them off your shelves. If you’re listening today and you haven’t taken this action, I urge you to do it. Somebody’s going to be at your home, maybe for fixing your plumbing or somebody helping to clean your home or something else or kids might be at your home, maybe some friends of your kids, and those pills are just too darned tempting. The cost of one pill, about $80 on the street. So think about that. Get rid of these pills. Take them to a drugstore where they’ve got a receptacle now. Take them to a police department where they have a receptacle. Be involved in these drug takeback programs. Almost every community in America participated on Saturday. There were tons of drugs and I mean tons that were disposed of, and that’s a good thing and that’s going to save lives. But again, the Department of Justice can expand that program under our legislation. They’re authorized to do it. Let’s do it. This is something that can be done right now. 

“These are steps HHS, DOJ, others can take right now under the authority we’ve already given them that will make a difference. This crisis is getting worse, not better. To turn the tide we’ve got to do all those things and more. I’d also like to mention in addition to these important parts of CARA, another action the administration can take, is that the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Dr. Ben Carson, could increase sober housing for people coming out of treatment. I know Dr. Carson well enough to know that he has a passion for this issue and he wants to address it. This is one way to address it. Under the Obama administration, the previous administration, sober living facilities lost priority if they had a zero tolerance drug policy. To me, that makes no sense. Dr. Carson has the authority to change that and to make it easier for folks who are in recovery to stay clean over the long term. Again, I hope the administration will take that step and these other important steps. Whether it’s the FDA, NIH, DOJ, HHS or whether it’s Housing and Urban Development, we’ve got opportunities without any new legislation. This is either already authorized or actions they can take. Let’s go ahead and do it. Let’s do everything we can. 

“None of these individually is a silver bullet. There is no silver bullet. This issue is ultimately going to be decided in our communities, in our families, and in our hearts. We’ve all got to get involved. But all of these will help. All of these will help to ensure that we are responding to a true crisis in our communities. If we do all these things, I believe that next year can be better. This year is going to be worse. All the data shows that the number of overdoses and deaths in my home state of Ohio, in your state are increasing this year as compared to last year. It doesn’t have to be this way. All these actions taken together in prevention and education, better treatment, longer-term recovery, sober housing, ensuring that we are moving away from overprescribing and providing alternatives to addictive pain medication, ensuring that we do provide our first responders with the training they need on Narcan, Nalaxone to get them the treatment they need. To get them into treatment, not just saving lives but to get them into treatment, all of that together will make a difference. 

“I believe we can turn the tide and I believe we can save lives. And I believe we can not just save lives of those who otherwise may overdose and die as a result of their overdose, but we can help all those who are addicted, the hundreds of thousands of people in Ohio, the millions of people across our country to be able to achieve their dreams by getting them into treatment programs. And there is good news here because there’s so many examples of people who have gone into treatment and longer-term recovery and turned their lives around, many of whom are now helping others do the same, many back at work, back with their families, back being the kind of citizens that contribute to our society in so many ways. And that’s the hope and that’s what can happen if we work together to implement this legislation, to do everything possible to have this broad comprehensive approach to turn the tide.”