Life Science Compliance Update

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April 28, 2016

US Senate Committee on Homeland Security, Hearing: America’s Insatiable Demand for Drugs

Prescription drugs have been in the news for months: pricing issues, transparency problems, and the presidential campaign have all been keeping pharmaceutical companies in the limelight. Now, the United States Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs has decided to get in on the action. The Committee recently held a hearing, America's Insatiable Demand for Drugs. This particular hearing focused on border security and the growing epidemic of opioid abuse and heroin addictions that drive demand for drugs from South and Central America.

The Committee heard testimony from five witnesses: General John F. Kelly, USMC (Ret.), Former Commander of the United States Southern Command; Jonathan P. Caulkins, Stever Professor of Operations Research & Public Policy of Heinz College at Carnegie Mellon University; Cheryl Healton, the Dean of the College of Global Public Health at New York University; Tony Sgro, the Chief Executive Officer at EdVenture Partners; and Robert Budsock, the President and Chief Executive Officer of Integrity House, Inc.

Opening Statements

In his opening statement, Chairman Ron Johnson opined that "among many causes, the root cause of our insecure border is America's insatiable demand for drugs." He mentions the fact that despite spending "approximately $25 billion per year on our 'war on drugs,'" we "interdict less than 10 percent of illegal drugs coming across our southwest border and somewhere between 11 and 18 percent coming in through our maritime borders."

In his opening statement, Senator Thomas Carper discussed how the "American demand for heroin and other drugs … fuels the violent tactics of the traffickers who move drugs, goods, and people across our borders." Senator Carper also acknowledged that these problems are complex, and that potential solutions are not quick or easy, but that this Committee values identifying and addressing the root causes of America's demand for illegal drugs.

Both Chairman Johnson and Senator Carper acknowledged the dramatic and deadly effect American drug demand is having on American public health institutions, as well as Central and South American citizens.

Panel Discussion

Advertising Campaigns

Chairman Johnson mentioned that the impetus behind this hearing was a conversation he had with General John F. Kelly. General Kelly, who was also a witness to this hearing, testified as to his experiences combating drug trafficking as the former Commander of the United States Southern Command. During that conversation, General Kelly asked Chairman Johnson why the successes of the anti-tobacco campaigns had not yet been applied to opioid abuse awareness. Chairman Kelly did not have a good answer, and responded by holding this hearing with two advertising experts: Dr. Cheryl Healton and Mr. Tony Sgro.

Prior to her current position, Dr. Healton spent fourteen years at the Legacy Foundation, where she worked on the truth® campaign about youth tobacco usage. She spoke of the successes and the challenges behind that campaign, and warned that, while a similar campaign may be beneficial to the current opioid crisis, it would also likely not have the same result. This is especially due to the fact that opioid addiction is known for altering the mental state of patients. However, she did feel that it may have a large impact on youth who have never tried opioids.

Mr. Sgro, suggested that peer to peer advertising of staying away from drugs like opioids is the best plan of action. He opined that messages against drugs would be best received by youth if they were being offered by youth, especially through social media platforms. He suggested the idea of a national competition to create such a campaign, founded by Congress.

Industry Responsibility

As with many of the hearings on this topic, the pharmaceutical industry is expected to shoulder some future responsibility. Dr. Healton suggested that Congress fund a study on "the 'unintended' consequences of pharmaceutical misadventure in pushing pain analgesics that in turn lead to heroin addiction." She believes that if a child is given an opioid for things like dental surgeries and sports injuries, they and their parents both should be educated on the potential harms.

Mr. Budsock mentioned that he believes that one of the major contributing factors to this epidemic is "the over-prescription of addictive pain killers in America, and that funding effective treatment and recovery programs can help to reduce the demand for drugs.

Conclusion

There are likely to continue to be more hearings on the topic, by a variety of committees in Congress. It is likely that some form of action will be taken, once a consensus is reached within at least one committee, and we will see this problem continue to play out and try to be resolved through legislative means.

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