Senators press HHS for compliance, answers on whether we’re ‘turning a corner’ on opioid crisis

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Above: In Feb. 2019 Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-NH, confronted top Janssen Pharmaceuticals executive Jennifer Taubert for her company’s role in helping fuel the opioid crisis during a Senate Finance Committee hearing on prescription drug costs. Janssen is the pharmaceuticals division of Johnson & Johnson.


WASHINGTON, D.C. — Following a recent preliminary report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicating a reduction in non-fatal opioid overdoes in 2018, Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass) and Senator Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) sent a letter to Health and Human Services (HHS) inquiring how the department is comprehensively measuring our progress in curtailing the nation’s opioid epidemic.

Along with Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the Senators introduced last year the National Milestones to Measure Progress in Ending the Opioid Epidemic Act of 2018, which required HHS to develop a scorecard to measure progress in responding to the opioid overdose crisis. This bill was included in the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act that became law in October 2018. The Senators’ letter focused on the administration’s efforts to implement the Milestones requirements included in SUPPORT.

“We need to stay focused on tracking all relevant trends related to the opioid overdose crisis, not just overdose fatalities, to gain a clearer picture of where we are as a country in ending this epidemic,” write the Senators to HHS Secretary Alex Azar in their letter. “This additional information will help the federal government and states identify interventions that are working and those that are not, as well as recognizing areas for continued investment to improve health outcomes for individuals impacted by the epidemic.”

A copy of the letter can is below.

In the letter to Secretary Azar, Senators Markey and Hassan ask questions that include:

  • As required by law, the Secretary of Health and Human Services has 180 days to develop or identify existing national indicators, to measure our response to the opioid crisis. What are at least ten national indicators that are being used to measure progress in addressing the opioid crisis?
  • For each of the ten indicators, what is HHS’s stated goal or metric and annualtargets, as the law requires HHS to develop?
  • What barriers, if any, has HHS faced in identifying both the indicators and metrics to be used to measure the progress of our public health response to the opioid crisis?
  • To date, what data do we have related to the following metrics outlined in the law related to the number of non-fatal overdoses, emergency room visits related to opioid misuse and abuse, individuals in sustained recovery from opioid use disorder, infections associated with illicit drug use, providers and the settings in which providers are using medication assisted treatment for opioid use disorders, and individuals in treatment for opioid use disorder.
  • What are the current treatment statistics and trends for individuals who have suffered a nonfatal overdose? How are these numbers helping to guide resource decisions in the effort to end the crisis?