(Senate - November 15, 2016)

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[Congressional Record Volume 162, Number 163 (Tuesday, November 15, 2016)]
[Pages S6323-S6324]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]

                            OPIOID ADDICTION

  Mr. WYDEN. Madam President, last month, Democratic staff on the 
Finance Committee put out a report documenting the staggering shortage 
of treatment services in America for those suffering from opioid 
addiction. This report surveyed a cross-section of American communities 
and found there is a yawning treatment gap keeping

[[Page S6324]]

many from getting the help they need. Nearly 90 percent of Americans 
suffering from opioid addiction, according to the most current 
analyses, are not receiving the treatment they need--90 percent. The 
treatment gap is caused by a shortage of available treatment services 
across the country, and even where these services do exist, they are 
overwhelmed by demand. This gap is straining rural communities that are 
already struggling to provide other essential medical services. Asking 
these communities to provide care when they are stretched in such 
incredibly thin ways forces them into impossible choices. The result is 
even more lives in America are lost to opioid addiction.
  Earlier this year, after Congress passed legislation called CARA 
authorizing anti-addiction programs, Members did an awful lot of 
celebrating, an awful lot of victory laps, and fired off a forest of 
press releases, but that act didn't put a penny into these essential 
treatment programs. I just wanted to come to the floor because we are 
looking at another crucial time to help those suffering from addiction. 
The press releases don't do anything for people suffering from these 
horrible illnesses who might turn next to heroin, and when nearly 9 out 
of 10 addicted to opioids aren't getting treatment, clearly there is 
much more that needs to be done so it is critical in this lameduck 
session to follow through with funding.
  I have been encouraged by several of the conversations that have 
taken place over the last few days about finding a path forward to 
ensuring there be real funds for treating opioid addiction, but I have 
seen some of these debates before, and I have been encouraged before 
only to see the chance for progress stall out. I would like to note 
that I believe there is a special reason right now to stand up for 
patients and make sure they have access to treatment, that they have 
what they need.
  In the next few weeks, the Congress is going to consider another 
piece of legislation called the 21st Century Cures Act. This will be a 
bill designed to encourage research and scientific development of new 
pharmaceuticals, fast-tracking the development of pharmaceuticals.
  I don't take a backseat to anyone when it comes to supporting 
innovation and scientific research. In fact, early in my Senate days, I 
chaired the Senate's Science Subcommittee so I know how important it 
is. At the same time, this piece of legislation will also offer a great 
benefit to the large pharmaceutical companies in America. The Congress 
will be considering the Cures bill with the backdrop of so many who are 
addicted to opioids not being able to get access to treatment, and they 
are going to be concerned about how there will be more research for new 
drugs because we want to see these cures. They are going to ask: How 
are we going to afford them? We want the cures, but we also want to be 
able to afford these medicines.
  Every time we look at a football game, we see dozens of ads for 
blockbuster drugs, but Americans watch those ads and say: Yes, we want 
those cures, yes, we want the scientific progress, but please, 
Congress, think about policies that are going to allow us to get those 
drugs. It is no wonder a recent editorial pointed out it was cheaper to 
fly round trip to India for a hepatitis C treatment than to get it here 
in the United States. People see these bills piling up. If they are 
able to afford their medications today, they are saying: Are we going 
to lose access tomorrow?
  To me, here is the bottom line for the fall. Here is the bottom line 
for where we ought to go. Yes, we should support medical breakthroughs 
and research into cures, but let us not keep the patients out of the 
debate. Let us make sure we add the funds needed for treatment for 
those who are addicted to opioids, and as we look at this issue of 
cures, let us also look at policies to make sure people can afford 
their medicines.
  The Committee on Finance has been looking at these issues. For 
example, recently, I raised a serious objection when I learned a panel 
meant to be studying how to turn the tide on opioid addiction was 
stocked with people closely tied to opioid manufacturers. We blew the 
whistle on that and four nominees to the panel were dismissed.
  We have a lot to do this fall. I know time is short, but, yes, let us 
promote these new cures; yes, let us make sure people who are addicted 
to opioids have new opportunities for treatment; and as we look at drug 
development, let us make sure we don't see so many Americans on the 
outside looking in as prices go up and up and up. There is more work to 
be done on both fronts: ensuring access to new science, ensuring access 
to treatment services, ensuring access to affordable medicines. That is 
what we ought to be focusing on this fall.
  With that, I yield the floor.