WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) delivered an impassioned address to a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Thursday, admonishing his colleagues to hold pharmaceutical companies accountable for their part in the opioid crisis.
Meanwhile, Representative Greg Walden (R-Hood River) held a roundtable discussion to hear from victims of the crisis, and advocates for change.
"This is probably the most important meeting we’ve held because you all have been there, in the trenches, and have lived this terrible tragedy that has befallen our country. We’ve seen quadrupled opioid deaths since 1999. More people die from opioid overdoses in America than traffic accidents," said Walden
One of the speakers was Paula Peterson of Grants Pass, who addressed the group in Washington via video from Walden's office in Medford.
Peterson spoke about her son Cole, who began using oxycodone around age 15 or 16 because it was readily available—friends or family members of friends had prescripctions left over and forgotten from various ailments. Eventually, the addiction to oxycodone led to other opiate forms, once sources changed or dried up.
“At that time, he was living in a neighborhood where heroin was plentiful. He was not alone—almost all of his friends got hooked on heroin. These were, and are, good kids. Two of his close friends are lost to the streets or jail, the others are on Suboxone, including Cole,” Peterson said.
Peterson advocated for Congress to make Suboxone and other medication-assisted treatments more available, for communities to fight the sigmatization of opioid abuse, and for researches to delve into the root causes of addiction.
At the Finance Committee hearing, Sen. Wyden called out the numbers.
"In 2015, more than 52,000 Americans died of a drug overdose. In 2016 it increased to 64,000. In 2017, it was 71,000. There’s a tragic and well-documented pattern of opioid addiction escalating into abuse of heroin and fentanyl," said Wyden.
However, Wyden underscored the complex and sensitive nature of addressing the epidemic effectively.
"Those of us looking for answers also have to deal with the paradoxical reality that cutting down the supply of opioids too sharply could drive even more people to heroin and other drugs, leading to even more overdose deaths. There is no easy way out of this crisis," said Wyden.
In Oregon, Sen. Wyden and Rep. Walden seem to agree that funding is a good start. Walden recently praised the news that Oregon would receive over $6.5 million in federal grants for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), to be used for the prevention and treatment of opioid abuse.
"There is a bipartisan interest in finding new legislative proposals to help make a difference. And the chronic care legislation that just became law shows that this committee can work together on the big health policy challenges. So the chairman and I are working with every member to identify meaningful policies that can achieve broad, bipartisan support. Colleagues on both sides have done a lot of work on this issue," said Sen. Wyden.
Trump’s point person on opioids couldn’t tell me how the opioid epidemic started or who was responsible. It’s commonly known that opioid execs placed a priority on increasing sales over patient safety. We can’t solve this crisis without addressing the roots. @SenateFinance pic.twitter.com/Lb8CYmwCP0
— Ron Wyden (@RonWyden) April 19, 2018