September 17, 2018

Senator Hassan Delivers Speech Ahead of Vote on Major Bipartisan Legislation to Combat the Opioid Crisis

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To watch the Senator’s speech click here

WASHINGTON – Senator Maggie Hassan, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, delivered a speech today on the Senate floor ahead of a vote to pass major bipartisan legislation to help combat the devastating opioid crisis and save lives. This bipartisan bill includes legislation that Senator Hassan helped develop as a member of the HELP Committee, as well as other key measures that the Senator either authored or cosponsored to strengthen prevention, treatment, recovery, and law enforcement efforts.

“I rise today as the Senate considers bipartisan legislation that marks a critical step forward in the fight against the fentanyl, heroin, and opioid crisis,” Senator Hassan opened her remarks. “Mr. President, in New Hampshire, and all across our nation – entire communities are being ravaged by this epidemic. In order to turn the tide, we need to combat the challenges communities are experiencing from all angles. We need to collaborate across traditional boundaries. We need to take a truly all-hands-on-deck approach because the magnitude of this crisis demands it.”

The Senator added, “This is a multi-faceted problem – and it requires a multi-faceted approach. But for too long, we haven’t had a federal response that matches the urgency on the ground.  I am hopeful that by passing this bipartisan legislation we can move forward with giving communities and families some of the support that they need. And that they have been waiting for. Aching for. Mr. President, this comprehensive legislation we are considering today includes many priorities that the people of New Hampshire — particularly those on the front lines — have been urging us to fight for.”

The Senator concluded, “But the biggest mistake that anyone could make is thinking that our efforts are anywhere close to being done.”

The Senator emphasized priorities that she helped champion in this bill, including reauthorizing and improving state targeted response grants to ensure that states hardest hit by the opioid crisis – like New Hampshire - continue to get the resources they need, the bipartisan Comprehensive Opioid Recovery Centers Act that offers grants to expand existing recovery centers, and legislation that encourages medical schools and residency programs to integrate addiction medicine and treatment into their curriculum.

See below for Senator Hassan’s full remarks or watch her speech here:

Mr. President, I rise today as the Senate considers bipartisan legislation that marks a critical step forward in the fight against the fentanyl, heroin, and opioid crisis.

Mr. President, in New Hampshire, and all across our nation – entire communities are being ravaged by this epidemic.

In order to turn the tide, we need to combat the challenges communities are experiencing from all angles.

We need to collaborate across traditional boundaries.

We need to take a truly all-hands-on-deck approach because the magnitude of this crisis demands it.

Mr. President, this crisis does not discriminate… I’ve spoken to so many individuals and families, from all walks of life, who are heartbroken.  And reeling.

Their loved ones were professionals, students, athletes, and parents. And then they fell victim to this illness – and their lives, and the lives of those who loved them, were never the same. 

Just this morning, I met with a number of grandparents who are now the primary caregivers for their grandchildren – a situation that many of us at first considered a phenomenon, and now realize has become common place — because the children’s parents have died, or they’re in prison, or they’re simply absent, or unable to be a caregiver due to their substance use disorder.

I spoke this morning with a group of grandparents, two of whom have been raising their grandson for nearly nine years now. One of whom has seen her two grandchildren returned to their parents after their parents recovered from their addiction. But in one case, the grandparent whose grandchildren have gone back to their parents, is at age 57, starting life completely anew. She had given up her job, gone through her entire retirement savings, to keep her children safe while their parents battled their addiction.

Another set of grandparents, who again had given up everything to keep their grandson safe, are scared of going to court to get permanent custody and adopt their grandchild because they are concerned that the child's father will re-appear and contest the custody at the cost of that custody battle will mean that they have no money left to care for their grandchild.

Most heartbreakingly, both sets of grandparents said to me that they were worried about what would happen to their grandchildren should they die, since the children's parents might not be able to be there for them.

I was also reminded today that at one of our largest treatment centers in New Hampshire, the providers estimate that 40 percent of those in treatment have children, which means there will be more and more children in our communities who need their grandparents or other caregivers to step forward.

Mr. President, This crisis is also taking a particular toll on first responders… who respond to overdose after overdose – sometimes the same people on the same day.

And it impacts our workforce and our economy. I’ve met with a number of employers who can’t fill jobs because they can’t find workers who can pass a drug test. And there are people now in recovery, some with convictions on their record who wonder if anyone will give them a second chance.

There is a lot of collateral damage from this crisis.

The good news is that just as the ripple effect of this epidemic touches all parts of our communities, people from all corners of New Hampshire — and our country — are responding — as communities, as friends and neighbors, and as first responders and health care providers — in a collaborative manner.

This is a multi-faceted problem – and it requires a multi-faceted approach.

But for too long, we haven’t had a federal response that matches the urgency on the ground.  

I am hopeful that by passing this bipartisan legislation we can move forward with giving communities and families some of the support that they need. And that they have been waiting for. Aching for.

Mr. President, this comprehensive legislation we are considering today includes many priorities that the people of New Hampshire — particularly those on the front lines — have been urging us to fight for.

This bill reauthorizes and improves state targeted response grants to ensure that states hardest hit by this crisis – states like New Hampshire – continue to get the resources that they need.

This legislation also includes the bipartisan Comprehensive Opioid Recovery Centers Act – which I partnered on with Senator Capito – to offer grants to expand existing centers of care to provide comprehensive, coordinated care and support services like recovery housing and employment reintegration for those who are in recovery.

We have also heard loudly and clearly from our health care providers that we need a more integrated approach in order combat this complex disease on all fronts…

…So this bill includes legislation that Senator Portman and I worked on together, aimed at the next generation of doctors. Encouraging medical schools and residency programs to integrate addiction medicine and treatment into their curriculum, as well as ensuring that doctors who get this training can apply right away to prescribe medication-assisted treatment as soon as they’re licensed and have a DEA number.

And members of law enforcement have made clear that they need additional tools to crack down on bad actors in the pharmaceutical industry whose behavior have greatly contributed to this crisis, so Senator Grassley, Senator Cruz, and I worked on a provision to make those tools available and to help hold industry bad actors accountable.

This legislation also curbs the importation of deadly fentanyl and other synthetic drugs being shipped through the borders to drug traffickers here in the United States.

These are just a number of the key provisions included in this bill. And as the Senate moves forward, and moves into negotiations with the House of Representatives, I will work with members of both parties to make important improvements.

For example – we should keep working in a bipartisan way to include a provision making permanent prescribing authority for nurse practitioners and physician assistants, as some of the measures that Senator Markey and King were just talking about. Nurses and physician assistants are vital parts of our health care workforce, including and especially in rural and underserved areas, and their prescribing authority should be made permanent. And we should allow additional advanced practice nurses to prescribe. 

Mr. President, I am pleased that we are taking this step forward today. And I am grateful for the Senate’s bipartisan work that has brought us to this point – the consideration of the bill on the Senate floor – particularly grateful for the work of Senator Alexander and Senator Murray. 

This legislation is a vital next step in our efforts to combat this crisis. But the biggest mistake that anyone could make is thinking that our efforts are anywhere close to being done.

As the families I met with this morning made clear, we have a lot more work to do.  I am encouraged by the progress of this bill, and I believe its implementation will help us mount a much more informed and comprehensive response to this devastating epidemic.  I also remain encouraged that that we have secured a significant increase in federal funding to combat this crisis through budget negotiations.

But let there be no mistake.  We will need to continue to work together, in particular to learn about which treatment and recovery practices will be successful in the long run. And we will need further research to establish best practices for supporting a newly at-rist cohort, the children of those with this disorder. We have been responding to and learning about this disease as the epidemic unfolded, and there is much we do not know.  And much we still need to tackle. 

I am encouraged that members of both parties have come together… demonstrating that we can put partisanship aside and work together to address some of the most dire challenges that our communities face.  

We owe it to all of the many stakeholders in this fight to keep listening to them, to keep collaborating together… and to keep working on solutions… so that we can truly make progress.   And get better. 

This is a good start. But it is and must be only a start. 

Thank you, Mr. President. I yield the floor.

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