VIDEO: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard Calls For Action and Accountability on Opioid Epidemic
Washington, DC—As the U.S. House of Representatives considers legislation on prescription opioid abuse this week, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02) urged Congress to take action.
Video of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s full speech on the House Floor is available here
In a speech on the House floor, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard said, “2.1 million people suffer from dependency and addiction to prescription opioid drugs in the United States. 80% of the world's pain pills are consumed in the U.S., even though we only have 5% of the world's population. This is an epidemic that reaches every corner of our nation.
“This week the House is considering 15 bipartisan measures that seek to address some of the widespread problems that have caused and perpetuated this national crisis. But as we look at treatment options and support for those dealing with this addiction, it's important that we actually focus on the root cause of the problem. We have seen for decades how major pharmaceutical companies have misled the FDA, doctors, and patients about the safety and risks of opioid dependency on commonly prescribed prescription drugs in their efforts to sell more drugs.”
The Congresswoman referenced a recent L.A. Times report detailing how Purdue Pharma has made over $31 billion off of OxyContin, America’s bestselling pain killer, by advertising the drug's 12-hour pain relief. Investigations have found that in many people the drug doesn’t last for 12 hours—it wears off hours earlier. According to the L.A. Times investigation and other research, this often leads to “excruciating symptoms of withdrawal, including an intense craving for the drug.” Purdue has even encourageddoctors to prescribe stronger doses when patients complain about its shortened effects, despite strong concern and complaints from doctors, sales representatives, and independent research. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than 7 million Americans have abused OxyContin, and it remains one of America’s most abused pharmaceuticals in U.S. history.
The congresswoman continued, “The problems created by companies like Purdue Pharma are felt deeply by families all across the country. In my home state of Hawaiʻi, the rate of pain medicine abuse is more than 10% above the national average. According to Hawaiʻi State Department of Health, opioid related deaths have increased 133% from 2000 to 2016. Further, many of those who used to take prescription drugs— police officers, teachers, nurses, and many others—have turned to heroin, which is made from the same poppy plant and has the same effect, but is much cheaper.
“Veterans are disproportionately impacted by this epidemic. Up until recently, the VA prescribed opioids almost exclusively to veterans experiencing chronic pain. I’ve heard from my friends and fellow veterans how they’ve received prescriptions for pain drugs even after telling their VA doctor that they did not want them. Prescriptions for opiates spiked 270% over 12 years, according to a 2013 analysis by the Center for Investigative Reporting. This led to addictions and a fatal overdose amongst veterans at a rate twice the national average. The VA is beginning to start to change some of its practices and offering alternative forms of treatment, but even so, that change is not comprehensive, and it’s not happening everywhere across the country.
“A national health crisis of this magnitude requires leadership, commitment, resolve, and partnership at every level of government, within our medical community, and within our community itself. I urge my colleagues to join me to call for further action that holds pharmaceutical companies accountable who are profiting off America's addiction problem, and that holds doctors accountable who are irresponsibly overprescribing these highly addictive drugs. We must focus instead on finding real solutions that can truly help people.
“I also urge the U.S. Surgeon General to make combating opioid abuse the 2016 Call to Action, a yearly initiative that helps to stimulate nationwide action to solve a major public health problem in the U.S. In the past few years, the national Call to Action has addressed exercise, walkable communities, skin cancer prevention, breast-feeding, deep vein thrombosis, and underage drinking. With 78 Americans dying every single day from opioid overdose, this is an issue that demands our national attention and action.”