NADLER’S STATEMENT FOR THE HEARING ON THE “CHALLENGES AND SOLUTIONS IN THE OPIOID ABUSE CRISIS”
Today, House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered the following opening statement for a hearing on the opioid crisis:
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I welcome today’s hearing as an opportunity to explore ways we can best address the crisis of opioid abuse in our country. I believe it is critical that we do so, in order to identify what works and what does not, so that we do not repeat mistakes we have made in the past.
“In the United States, drug overdoses are the leading cause of accidental death, with opioids being involved in nearly two thirds of overdose deaths. Overall, the number of drug overdose deaths has nearly quadrupled over the past twenty years. Although effective for the treatment of pain, prescription opioids are highly addictive and nearly half of all U.S. opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription opioid. Deaths related to heroin have similarly increased, as individuals often transition from more expensive prescription opioids to cheaper heroin.
“As this crisis has intensified, Congress has contemplated various responses and, in some instances, adopted legislation. In 2016, we enacted the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, a law that included a wide array of provisions advanced by many of our Committees. The provisions in the jurisdiction of this Committee included a number of worthy initiatives, such as programs to expand treatment as an alternative to incarceration.
“It is impossible not to see the contrast with how Congress has responded to the opioid crisis in comparison to the responses to some other drugs, particularly crack cocaine. While I agree that we should develop and implement a comprehensive strategy with respect to opioids, with the emphasis being on preventing and treating abuse, we did not take this approach with crack cocaine, there focusing our response on the enactment of lengthy mandatory minimum sentences and treating the use of crack as a law enforcement issue. That approach was wrong – and continues to be wrong – disparately impacting African American communities while fueling mass incarceration.
“We must not make that same mistake with any of the drugs classified as opioids. And we must reverse and rectify the mistakes we have made on other drugs such as crack, through an increased emphasis on prevention and treatment, and by changing our counterproductive and unjust sentencing laws.
“Certain opioids, such as heroin and fentanyl, are already subject to mandatory minimum penalties, and these penalties have not prevented the current crisis. And increasing them would also not be effective.
“We also do not need more “get tough” rhetoric from President Trump or Attorney General Sessions about imposing the death penalty for drug crimes. And we should not be telling prosecutors to ratchet up criminal charges and penalties for drug offenders. None of that solves the problem. Instead of doubling down on failed policies that do nothing more than proliferate misery, we need real leadership, involving a commitment to increase resources for alternatives that we know are actually effective There are a number of proven alternatives that are being implemented in the states, and we must commit to supporting them.
“For instance, Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion Programs, known as LEAD, allow law enforcement to divert appropriate arrestees from criminal court, instead providing treatment and other services that address addiction and reduce recidivism. Developed and initially implemented in Seattle, the LEAD approach is now being used with success in other areas.
“We should support efforts such as LEAD, as well as other approaches at the local level including medication assisted treatment, supervised injection facilities, expanding the availability of overdose reversal drugs, and better education of doctors and the public about the proper prescription and use of opioids as pain medication.
“We will not be able to arrest and incarcerate our way out of a drug abuse crisis that has many causes. Instead, we must support the development and implementation of a variety of solutions. I hope this will be the path of the Committee as we consider our contribution to addressing this crisis.
“I yield back the balance of my time.”