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Gabbard Addresses Opioid Epidemic on House Floor

May 12, 2016, 1:44 PM HST (Updated May 12, 2016, 1:44 PM)
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Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. Still taken from CSPAN video of Congresswoman Gabbard speaking on the house floor.

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. Still taken from CSPAN video of Congresswoman Gabbard speaking on the house floor.

Representative Tulsi Gabbard spoke on the House floor as the United States House of Representatives considers legislation on prescription opioid abuse this week.

Congresswoman Gabbard urged Congress to take action.

“2.1 million people suffer from dependency and addiction to prescription opioid drugs in the United States. 80% of the world’s pain pills are consumed in the U.S., even though we only have 5% of the world’s population,” Congresswoman Gabbard said on the floor. “This is an epidemic that reaches every corner of our nation.”

Among the details of her speech, Congresswoman Gabbard referenced an L.A. Times report detailing how Purdue Pharma has made $31 billion off of OxyContin. The bestselling pain killer is advertised as lasting for 12 hours while it wears off hours earlier for many people.

The L.A. Times article and investigation into the false pretenses that it is sold on often leads to “excruciating symptoms of withdrawal, including an intense craving for the drug.”

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than 7 million Americans have abused OxyContin, and it remains one of America’s most abused pharmaceuticals in U.S. history.

“This week, the House is considering 15 bipartisan measures that seek to address some of the widespread problems that have caused and perpetuated this national crisis. But as we look at treatment options and support for those dealing with this addiction, it’s important that we actually focus on the root cause of the problem,” said Congresswoman Gabbard. “We have seen for decades how major pharmaceutical companies have misled the FDA, doctors, and patients about the safety and risks of opioid dependency on commonly prescribed prescription drugs in their efforts to sell more drugs.”

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Congresswoman Gabbard continued with the following transcript of her speech:

“The problems created by companies like Purdue Pharma are felt deeply by families all across the country. In my home state of Hawaiʻi, the rate of pain medicine abuse is more than 10% above the national average. According to the Hawaiʻi State Department of Health, opioid related deaths have increased 133% from 2000 to 2016. Further, many of those who used to take prescription drugs— police officers, teachers, nurses, and many others—have turned to heroin, which is made from the same poppy plant and has the same effect, but is much cheaper.

“Veterans are disproportionately impacted by this epidemic. Up until recently, the VA prescribed opioids almost exclusively to veterans experiencing chronic pain. I’ve heard from my friends and fellow veterans how they’ve received prescriptions for pain drugs even after telling their VA doctor that they did not want them. Prescriptions for opiates spiked 270% over 12 years, according to a 2013 analysis by the Center for Investigative Reporting. This led to addictions and a fatal overdose amongst veterans at a rate twice the national average. The VA is beginning to start to change some of its practices and offering alternative forms of treatment, but even so, that change is not comprehensive, and it’s not happening everywhere across the country.

“A national health crisis of this magnitude requires leadership, commitment, resolve, and partnership at every level of government, within our medical community, and within our community itself. I urge my colleagues to join me to call for further action that holds pharmaceutical companies accountable who are profiting off America’s addiction problem, and that holds doctors accountable who are irresponsibly over-prescribing these highly addictive drugs. We must focus instead on finding real solutions that can truly help people.

“I also urge the U.S. Surgeon General to make combating opioid abuse the 2016 Call to Action, a yearly initiative that helps to stimulate nationwide action to solve a major public health problem in the U.S. In the past few years, the national Call to Action has addressed exercise, walkable communities, skin cancer prevention, breast-feeding, deep vein thrombosis, and underage drinking. With 78 Americans dying every single day from opioid overdose, this is an issue that demands our national attention and action.”

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