BALTIMORE, Md. - Field hearings date back to the Civil War and were designed to bring Congress directly to the people. The topics are typically issues of national concern, and right now, there is no bigger public health crisis in our country than the opioid epidemic. And maybe no place more fitting to have the field hearing than in a City embattled in the drug fight.
“The death toll from the drug overdoses last year alone was higher than all U.S. military casualties in Vietnam and Iraq wars combined,” said Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-MD), ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
“Drug overdoses kill more people than gun homicides and car crashes combined,” said Congressman Trey Gowdy (R-SC), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
However you put it, opioids are killing a large number of people in our country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that more than 64,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2016—an increase of more than 20% over the year before.
More distressing than the numbers or the analogies is that these statistics are family members and loved ones dying while our country’s leaders try to figure out how to ebb the body count.
“We can put people on the moon and split atoms yet we're struggling with how to respond to this epidemic,” said Gowdy.
President Donald Trump created a commission to come up with a series of solutions. The chairman, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, laid out a number of recommendations in a report published earlier this month.
The U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee convened in Baltimore at Johns Hopkins Hospital to discuss the report and better diagnose the disease plaguing our nation, state, and cities.
“So far this year, in our state, 1,180 people have died from overdoses in Maryland,” said Maryland Governor Larry Hogan.
Of those deaths, nearly 850 were due to synthetic drugs including fentanyl and carfentanil. Stopping the drug supply is one of the most critical of the 65 recommendations made by Christie.
“We also need to make very clear to the Chinese that this is an act of war. You are sending this into our country to kill our people. There's no other purpose for this drug, this drug will kill people,” said Christie.
Second of his top three recommendations includes improving medical education, requiring continuous training by medical professionals, and encouraging them to prescribe alternatives to opioid pain killers.
“And lastly, we have underfunded treatment in this country and we need to make sure it's more available to folks. I think, it's as Member Cummings said in his remarks quoting the report, when 10.6 percent of people who need treatment get treatment, we need to do better,” Christie said.
The committee also questioned Christie on funding and driving down costs for naloxone.
Christie said it's now up to congressional leadership and the president to decide if, when, and how they want to implement this plan.
In the meantime, someone is dying every 20 minutes from an opioid overdose in our country, said Cummings.