Fentanyl-laced counterfeit medications smuggled into the U.S. remain a major opioid-related threat, but prescription drug monitoring programs—now active in 49 states—are one of the nation’s best defenses, U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers told Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit attendees in a session presented Tuesday morning.
The next step will be to improve efficiency and interstate data sharing, Rogers said, noting that $32 million was earmarked for that purpose by Congress in this fiscal year.
Rogers was also critical of pharmaceutical companies in his address, specifically Purdue Pharma, which he said “deliberately marketed their opioids as not addictive and profited millions of dollars while families lost their loved ones.”
“Purdue and the Sacklers should be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law, and this settlement doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of justice for the lives lost and families that have been destroyed,” he said.
Rogers added that he has concerns about the future of Purdue as it transitions into a public benefit company, noting a lack of guidance on how the new company will not overprescribe opioids again and no guarantee or timeline for when the company will generate a projected $1.75 billion for state and local addiction programs.
Rogers was one of several legislators who addressed Rx Summit attendees on Tuesday. Among other who spoke, Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky recalled a visit he took with Rogers to Volunteers of America Mid-States in Clay County, Kentucky, last summer. McConnell credited the program’s work in helping pregnant and new mothers restart their lives. During the visit, McConnell said, program leaders shared concerns about the coronavirus pandemic’s impact to their budget, threatening critical programs. Soon after, though, the bipartisan CARES Act, the Paycheck Protection Program and other federal resources provided much-needed relief, he said.
“We must continue to deliver for those working toward long-term recovery,” McConnell told attendees. “In recent years, Kentucky saw its first decline in overdose deaths in over a decade. States across the country had similar good news. Unfortunately, just as we saw glimmers of hope, the pandemic struck and brought isolation and uncertainty to those battling addiction. Policymakers and treatment leaders must keep our focus on the epidemic of substance abuse throughout the pandemic.”
Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma struck a similar tone in his remarks. Of all the challenges facing the U.S., none are more intractable and more difficult to deal with than substance abuse, he said.
“This is a problem that has to be attacked from many angles,” Cole said. “Congress, in many ways thanks to the efforts of Congressman Hal Rogers, has devoted considerable resources to this particular challenge over the years, and we’ve increased funding pretty dramatically.
“That money has made a difference, but it’s clear to me we have to do more moving forward, particularly with the impact of the pandemic. I look forward to working with each and every one of you in making sure we keep the pedal to the metal on this and continue to put in resources, continue to highlight the problem, and continue to find new and innovative ways to treat the problem.”