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Pallone Leads Democratic Efforts to Pass Opioid Legislation

May 16, 2016
Press Release

Washington, D.C. - Today, Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ-06), top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, led Democratic efforts to advance bipartisan legislation to address the nationwide opioid epidemic through the House of Representatives. The legislation passed the house by a vote of 400 to 5. The Senate passed its opioid legislation, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), on March 10 by a vote of 94 to 1 and the House and Senate will now to go conference.

Pallone spoke in favor of the legislation, but also stressed that additional funding was needed to address the epidemic. His remarks on the House floor can be found below and the video can be found here.

Mr. Speaker– I rise this morning to speak in favor of the House Amendment to S. 524.

Over the last two days of floor debate, we have heard heartfelt speeches from Members of Congress about how this issue is affecting their constituents and, for some, their own families.  We’ve heard from both Democrats and Republicans; Members from urban districts, suburban districts, and rural districts; as well as Members from every region of the United States.

What’s clear is that no community has been immune to this crisis, including communities in my home state of New Jersey.  About 256,000 New Jersey residents are addicted to heroin and prescription opioids. That’s nearly the same as the entire population of Newark, the largest city in the state.

This is a serious crisis that demands an urgent response.  A comprehensive solution to the crisis will require real dollars and must take an approach that targets the full spectrum of addiction: prevention, crisis response, expanding access to treatment, and providing support for lifelong recovery.  The approach must be guided by science and cannot be deterred because of stigma or misperceptions about proven treatment and intervention strategies.

I am pleased to support the package of opioid legislation that we’re considering today because it takes steps toward that approach.  This bill incorporates proven public health approaches to fight against the heroin and prescription drug abuse crisis.  It improves the tools available to prescribers to prevent opioid abuse and the development of opioid use disorder.  It expands access to lifesaving naloxone, an opioid overdose reversal drug, to respond to those in an acute opioid crisis.  It expands access to evidence-based treatments that help individuals with opioid use disorders enter recovery.

However, I want to make clear we must go further to ensure that the scale of our response is proportionate to the burden of the crisis.  We not only need to support individuals’ entry into recovery, we need to ensure that we provide access to the supports and services that lead to lifelong recovery.

We also must further expand access to buprenorphine, an office-based medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorders.  Currently we do not have adequate treatment capacity to respond to the unprecedented demand for opioid use disorder treatment.

That is why we need to expand upon the Opioid Use Disorder Treatment Expansion and Modernization Act to significantly increase the number of patients a physician can treatment with this medication as well as permanently allow nurse practitioners and physician assistants to treat patients with this medication.

In the Committee, Democrats voted to raise the cap to 500 patients for qualifying physicians with appropriate credentials.  Additionally, Committee Democrats and Republicans voted unanimously to permanently allow nurse practitioners and physician assistants to treat patients with this medication.

I am committed to continuing to work with my colleagues as part of our Conference with the Senate to ensure that we lift the arbitrary, and harmful physician treatment cap and to ensure that nurse practitioners and physicians assistants in every community can permanently use their skills and experience to serve those in need of opioid use disorder treatments in their community.

Finally, I want to be clear that we should not be under the illusion that we can adequately respond to this crisis without providing urgently needed resources.  Waiting on the appropriations process isn’t suitable.  Our states and communities urgently need money now.=

Additionally we should not be forced to cut other discretionarily funded public health programs to provide resources for substance abuse programs. The discretionary funding caps have already left many of our vital public health programs underfunded; forcing additional cuts to those programs in order to provide funding to respond to the opioid epidemic will limit our ability to adequately respond to the opioid crisis as well as to meet the remaining public health needs of our communities.  We do not have to guess how it turns out if we fail to provide the urgent, robust funding that is desperately needed.

Sadly, the evidence is already staring us in the face – it will be more lives lost to this epidemic and it will be thousands more Americans who will continue to be left to battle their opioid addiction without the treatment and recovery support services they need. 

We are losing 78 Americans each day– we cannot afford anything less than a comprehensive, well-funded federal response.

I urge my colleagues to vote yes to this legislation because I believe it takes important steps to turning the tide on this crisis that is taking the lives of 78 Americans each day.  I also urge my colleagues to support providing the financial resource and additional tools necessary to meet the burden of this crisis.

I yield back.