Ernst Leads Bipartisan Hearing on Opioid and Meth Crisis

The Iowa Senator is introducing bipartisan legislation to provide more access to non-opioid pain treatments for Medicare beneficiaries to help prevent abuse

WASHINGTON – With Congress dedicating nearly $11 billion to tackle the opioid crisis to date, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) chaired a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing today focused on examining the federal government’s strategy for combating the epidemic, including the daunting rates of methamphetamine abuse in Iowa in particular, and to conduct oversight on the nation’s top agencies and departments tasked with the job.

Click here or on the image above to watch Senator Ernst’s opening remarks.

Witnesses included top officials from the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).


Senator Ernst is also joining her colleagues, Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and Doug Jones (D-AL), in introducing a bipartisan bill to provide more non-opioid pain treatment options for Medicare beneficiaries, to help prevent abuse. The NOPAIN Act—or the Non-Opioids Prevent Addiction in the Nation Act—would help alleviate barriers for Medicare beneficiaries to use non-opioid pain management alternatives.

Under current law, hospitals receive the same Medicare payment for both opioid and non-opioid prescriptions. This creates a disincentive for doctors to prescribe non-opioids, given that traditional opioids are typically dispensed by a pharmacy at little or no cost to the hospital. The NOPAIN Act addresses this payment disincentive by requiring the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to provide separate Medicare reimbursement for non-opioid pain management options.

Senator Ernst’s full opening remarks in today’s hearing are below:

“Since 1999, more than 700,000 people have died from a drug overdose in the United States.  Increased opioid addiction and the production of deadly synthetic opioids have exasperated America’s staggering overdose death rates. 

“In 2017, more than 70,000 people died from drug overdoses, making it the leading cause of injury-related death in the United States. 

“Of those deaths, 68% involved prescription opioids and illicit opioids, such as fentanyl. 

“Americans fared no better against the opioid epidemic in 2018 when: more than 10 million people age 12 or older abused opioids; 2 million people suffered from an opioid use disorder; and, on average, 130 Americans died each day from an opioid overdose.

“We do not know the sum cost—in disrupted lives or untimely deaths—from widespread misuse of prescription and non-prescription opioids. But we know from our family, our neighbors, and our friends who bear the enduring imprint of lost loved ones that the opioid crisis is…not… over. We must continue contending with this crisis.

“That being said, we’ve made some great strides over the past three years to help combat this crippling epidemic.

“Congress has passed landmark, bipartisan legislation directed at combating the opioid crisis.  Most notably, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) and the 21st Century Cure Act (Cures Act), both of which I proudly supported and were signed into law in 2016.

“Combined, these two bills provided over $1 billion in funding to combat the opioid crisis, with an emphasis on increasing prescription drug abuse prevention and treatment programs. 

“Two years later, Congress passed the bipartisan SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act, which is the most comprehensive anti-drug addiction and trafficking legislation in modern history.

“We crafted the SUPPORT Act to address every element of the opioid epidemic, from manufacturers and distributors, through prescribers, dispensers, and users, to first-responders and recovery professionals. 

“And to date, Congress has dedicated nearly $11 billion to tackle the opioid crisis, with the largest portion of that funding granted to the Department of Health and Human Services. 

“Today, we will hear from the Administration and the Executive Branch members that shape and execute the government’s strategy for combatting the opioid epidemic: the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the Department of Justice; the Drug Enforcement Administration; and the Department of Health and Human Services. 

“This hearing is especially important when we think about the oversight role we have in Congress to ensure these  Executive Branch partners are properly stewarding the funding we’ve provided to them to clearly tackle the opioid crisis. That said, the federal government is just one aspect to combatting this epidemic; we do not stand alone. 

“Curbing the opioid crisis relies on wide-scale, integrated solutions from all impacted sectors. 

“So, during today’s hearing, we will also have the opportunity to hear from key components of the private sector, including the Healthcare Distribution Alliance, National Community Pharmacists Association, Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, and drug policy experts from the RAND Corporation. 

“Together, we anticipate a close and comprehensive review of our collective efforts to curb the supply of illicit opioids and unnecessary prescription opioids; to improve access to evidence-based prevention, treatment, and recovery services for opioid use disorder; to identify future needs at federal, state, and local levels; and to develop sophisticated and tailored solutions to this destructive and deadly crisis. 

“Before I turn to our Ranking Member and esteemed witnesses, I’d like to take a moment to remind us all that America’s drug abuse problem did not begin with opioid misuse and will not end with the opioid crisis. 

“In my home state of Iowa, methamphetamine abuse has remained a persistent and perilous problem.

“Nationwide, in 2017, almost one million people had a methamphetamine use disorder—that is, they reported clinically significant impairment, including health problems, disability, and failure to meet responsibilities at work, school, or home as a result of their drug use. 

“This number is significantly higher than the 684,000 people who reported having methamphetamine use disorder in 2016.  

“In 2016 alone, my home state of Iowa reported over 1,500 confirmed child abuse reports relating to methamphetamine – not just in the home – but being found in the child’s body.  

“Folks, ultimately, Americans are suffering from drug dependency…our loved ones are dying from drug abuse at alarming and distinct rates. 

“Opioids are our priority today, but methamphetamine and the other dangerous substances impacting our urban and rural communities should, and will, be addressed going forward.    

“Thank you.”