Next Steps in the Fight Against Opioids

On October 24, President Trump signed into law a landmark bipartisan bill to fight the opioid crisis.

Called the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act, this legislation takes a comprehensive approach to the opioid crisis. It helps with treating addiction, reduces the availability of illegal substances, and advances the development of non-addictive painkillers.

I was proud to make significant contributions to this legislative process. Language I introduced to improve state Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs) was included in the final version of the law. These reforms will make it easier for states to share and compare information, and ultimately will help doctors make more informed decisions as they prescribe drugs to their patients.

The House and the Senate each passed this new law with overwhelming bipartisan support, a sign of our commitment to solving this crisis. The SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act resulted from an extensive legislative process. But it is not the end of our work.

To start, some of the law’s provisions are for pilot programs that, if successful, offer a basis for further use. One example is the authorization for comprehensive treatment centers. I believe these centers will benefit people struggling with addiction, and this pilot program should be expanded and more centers authorized in the future.

The investigations continue into how so many pain pills could be available with so little apparent concern about where they were headed. As Vice Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, I have been an active participant in these examinations.

So far, we have conducted an extensive inquiry into how small towns in West Virginia received millions of pills. The investigation has included grilling drug distributors and officials with the Drug Enforcement Agency about their oversight of suspiciously large orders of pain pills.

More recently, we have opened an investigation into some questionable practices of drug manufacturers; for instance, some have understated the addictive capabilities of their products, or used inappropriate, even illegal, tactics in selling them. We need answers from these manufacturers: what did they know about the addictiveness of their products, and when did they know it?

I joined with the bipartisan leadership of the Committee in sending opioid manufacturers what I call a “nastygram” that demands they turn over specific information. If they do not give us the information the American people deserve, my colleagues and I are ready to use the powers we have, including subpoenas if necessary, to get these answers.

The same week President Trump signed the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act, I participated in a roundtable discussion on opioid misuse in rural Virginia convened in Abingdon. It was sponsored by U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development and included federal, state, and local leaders as well as medical professionals.

In my remarks, I observed that a one-size-fits-all approach to the opioid crisis will not work. Each community is different. Rural communities have different challenges than urban areas.

Part of our discussion focused on what we can do to help rural communities rehabilitate people who overcome addiction. Sometimes a person who has battled addiction has to start from scratch: finding a new job, housing, and means of transportation. In rural areas, these assets are not always close at hand. It is important that we develop “recovery friendly” workplaces and housing options so recovering addicts have safe, welcoming points of entry back into full participation in our communities.

Tim Thomas, Federal Co-Chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission, observed at the roundtable that Appalachians are 65% more likely than other Americans to die as a result of addiction.

That’s a sobering statistic, and a reminder of the importance of this effort. So, too, are the questions and stories I hear from you. Constituents ask me often about what we are doing to battle opioid addiction. Many have experience with it because a family member or friend has battled addiction. Some have lost loved ones to addiction.

The SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act provides critical tools for those fighting the scourge of opioids. But it is also in our communities that the most important actions are taking place. Let us continue to work together to turn the tide of this devastating epidemic.

If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office. You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at www.morgangriffith.house.gov. Also on my website is the latest material from my office, including information on votes recently taken on the floor of the House of Representatives.

*Absent significant developments out of Washington, due to the election there will not be a column next week.