Finance Hearing Statement: “Examining the Opioid Epidemic: Challenges and Opportunities”

WASHINGTON – Today, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), a member of the Senate Finance Committee, released the following statement regarding the committee’s hearing, “Examining the Opioid Epidemic: Challenges and Opportunities.”

“Prescription drug and heroin abuse in this country has caused irreparable harm to families and communities alike and, far too often, we are reminded of its heartbreaking human toll. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) the rate of drug overdoses in this country has increased 137 percent since 2000, with a 200 percent increase in opioid-related overdoses. In 2014, opioid pain relievers were involved in 18,893 deaths, far exceeding deaths from any other legal or illegal drug. The CDC reports that 189 of those opioid-related deaths occurred in Delaware, an 11.8 percent jump from the 166 deadly overdoses reported the year before.

“Substance abuse is a multi-faceted problem with consequences for everyone, from those who are suffering from the disease, to their loved ones and communities who witness their struggle. The impact of the opioid epidemic on families is immeasurable. But beyond this devastating human cost, this epidemic is also taking a toll on our federal deficit, demanding increased health care spending to help communities respond to the crisis. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) spends more than any other federal agency on drug control, with Medicaid as the largest single payer of substance abuse-related spending in the country. According to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, drug control spending cost Medicaid and Medicare $4.35 billion in fiscal year 2014. By 2020, Medicaid and Medicare are expected to account for 33 percent of total spending on substance treatment.

“I’ve often said that we as a country pay too much attention to the symptoms of problems, rather than trying to fix the underlying causes. That’s the case with this issue, as well. Substance use disorders are preventable and treatable diseases. In order to curb the costs of this epidemic – in fiscal dollars and, more important, human lives – we must put a greater emphasis on prevention, treatment, and access to treatment for those who are suffering from substance abuse disorders.

“It will take an all-hands-on-deck effort to address the underlying causes of the opioid epidemic and solve it. But through partnerships with health care providers, law enforcement, impacted communities and others, I believe that real change can happen.”