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Monday, November 6, 2017

Sen. Baldwin introduces legislation to deal with opioid crisis

WASHINGTON, D.C. – To strengthen our country’s approach to combating the opioid epidemic and address some critical shortcomings, including the Administration’s unwillingness to make a long-term investment in the fight, U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin recetnly helped introduce the Combating the Opioid Epidemic Act.

“I’ve heard firsthand about how the opioid and heroin epidemic is devastating families and entire communities across Wisconsin,” said Senator Baldwin. “Washington must step up to be a stronger partner in this fight by investing in local prevention, treatment and recovery efforts. Our legislation is a commonsense, bipartisan-based solution to address the national opioid crisis with stable, long-term support that will strengthen state and local resources.”

The Combating the Opioid Epidemic Act Would:

-      Authorize and appropriate $4,474,800,000 for substance abuse programs for the individual states for each of fiscal years 2018 through 2027, build upon bipartisanship by adding this funding to the Account for the State Response to the Opioid Abuse Crisis, which was created by the 21st Century Cures Act, and expand the use of funding already allowed under 21st Century Cures, so that states may also use this money for detection, surveillance and treatment of co-occurring infections, as well as for surveillance, data collection and reporting on the number of opioid overdose deaths.
-      Promote research on addiction and pain related to substance abuse, and authorizes and appropriates $50,400,000 for each of fiscal years 2018 through 2022. Under the bill, the National Institutes of Health would be responsible for distributing this money. 
-      Provide stable, long-term funding, a total of $45 billion over ten years to the states and over five years to research efforts. This is similar to the stable, long-term investment that Senate Republicans proposed as a response to the opioid emergency.
-      Not replace coverage for treatment under Medicaid or the treatment requirements for private insurance in the Affordable Care Act. Both of these remain critical for combating the opioid abuse epidemic.

Senator Baldwin has introduced new legislation that will slow the revolving door between the pharmaceutical industry and the federal agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Food and Drug Administration FDA), that are entrusted to keep patients and the public safe. 

“The pharmaceutical industry has a deep-rooted and strong influence in Washington and a revolving door between drug companies and government cannot undermine the safety of our communities,” said Senator Baldwin. “Patients, families and the public need to have trust that the DEA and FDA are working for them, not powerful Washington interests.”

To slow that revolving door and help ensure that conflicts of interest do not erode the effectiveness of pharmaceutical regulators at the expense of patients and public safety, the Pharmaceutical Regulation Conflict of Interest Act will:

Expand Cooling Off Periods & Tighten Lobbying Rules
  • Increase the prohibition on former senior pharmaceutical regulators lobbying the federal government from one to two years and expand the definition of “lobbying contact” to include any lobbying activities and strategy

Reduce Conflicts of Interest
  • Require pharmaceutical regulators to recuse themselves from any official actions that directly or substantially benefit the former employer or client(s) for whom they worked in the previous two years before joining federal service

According to the Associated Press and the Center for Public Integrity, the makers of prescription painkillers like OxyContin, Vicodin and fentanyl, spent $880 million on campaign contributions and lobbying from 2006 through 2015.  In 2016 alone, the Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America had the nation’s fifth-largest federal lobbying expenditures – at more than $19 million dollars, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. 

There is currently a revolving door between these pharmaceutical companies and federal regulators. This was made plain in an October 15 Washington Post story outlining a troubling connection between a top opioids regulator and the pharmaceutical industry. This report described how a 2016 law may have undermined the Drug Enforcement Administration’s efforts against drug distribution companies supplying prescription opioids to doctors and pharmacies that allowed those drugs to enter the illicit market. It further revealed that this proposal had been written for its House sponsor by a senior DEA lawyer who had helped design the Administration’s efforts to crack down on bad actors, then joined a private law firm retained by the pharmaceutical industry. Previous reporting by the Post in December 2016 detailed how more than 30 DEA officials responsible for regulating the drug industry have left for jobs with pharmaceutical companies or the law firms representing them since 2005.       

Text of the legislation is available here.

An online version of this release is available here.

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