Senator Collins Cites Maine Examples in Opening Statement at Senate Hearing on America’s Opioid Epidemic

Click HERE to Watch Senator Collins’ Opening Statement

      Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senator Susan Collins cited Maine examples in her opening statement this morning at a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee hearing titled: Opioid Abuse in America: Facing the Epidemic and Examining Solutions.  The hearing is currently ongoing and will examine the spectrum of issues related to prevention, treatment, and recovery of opioid addiction, including both prescription opioids and heroin. Senator Collins is a senior member of the HELP Committee.
 
See below for a copy of Senator Collins’ remarks as prepared for delivery:
 
      Thank you, Chairman Alexander and Ranking Member Murray, for convening this hearing. 
 
      In many states, including Maine, the prescription drug abuse crisis has also become a heroin crisis, overwhelming our communities and families, often with tragic consequences.
 
      Maine has been particularly hard hit by this epidemic:

  • In 2014, there were 100 overdose deaths from heroin and other substances, that is up from only 16 in 2010.  In the first half of this year, 63 opiate overdose deaths have been reported.
  • In the month of July alone, the City of Portland had 14 suspected heroin overdoses, including two deaths in one day.
  • The number of people seeking treatment for opiate use has more than tripled in the past four years.

      But perhaps most tragic is the impact on the most vulnerable in our society – the babies born to addicts.  In Maine, in the last fiscal year, nearly 1,000 babies were born drug and/or alcohol-addicted, a number which represents eight percent of all births in our state. 
 
      Maine and New Hampshire have the dubious distinction of having the most prescriptions per person for long-acting and high-dose painkillers according to the CDC.
 
      And when those prescriptions lead to addiction, the next stop is too often heroin.  According to a study by the Maine Sunday Telegram, international drug cartels and inner-city drug gangs have targeted Maine as an emerging and lucrative market for heroin. 
 
      This epidemic is playing out in emergency rooms, county jails, and on Main Streets in my state and throughout the country.   Maine’s Sheriffs tell me that their jails are overwhelmed by those struggling with addiction and that they cannot arrest their way out of this epidemic. They are not designed to take the place of treatment centers, and yet sheriffs and police chiefs must train their officers to look for signs of withdrawal and monitor mental health status.
 
      I recently received a letter from a constituent of mine detailing his road to addiction, which began in high school as a result of football injuries for which he was given oxycodin. It was in college when the use of painkillers became a serious problem and later led to him to use heroin. Unfortunately, his story is sad but common. 
 
      His letter goes on to describe his attempt to treat depression with pain killers and “years of chasing the feeling of being ‘normal.’”
 
      It is important that our Committee is examining this serious public health crisis and I want to commend our leaders for doing so.