Senator Collins Urges Leader of FDA to Support Policies That Address Opioid Abuse Crisis, Reduce Prescription Drug Prices

Click HERE to watch Senator Collins’ Q&A at the Appropriations Subcommittee hearing
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Washington, D.C. - U.S. Senator Susan Collins, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, questioned Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing this morning on the FDA’s 2018 budget request. Senator Collins pressed Dr. Gottlieb to support policies that prevent opioids from being overprescribed, a key contributor to the heroin and opioid abuse epidemic. She also emphasized the importance of improving generic drug competition to ensure that patients have access to affordable medication.

Senator Collins has long raised the concern that the vast supply of prescription opioids currently in circulation is contributing to the heroin and opioid abuse crisis. Following Senator Collins’ advocacy, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) recently reversed a policy that inadvertently encouraged physicians to overprescribe opioid pain relievers. At today’s hearing, Senator Collins asked Dr. Gottlieb to describe additional ways to reduce this practice.

“Medicaid beneficiaries are prescribed pain relievers at a higher rate than those with other sources of insurance, and they also, not surprisingly given the higher rate, have a higher risk of overdose...,” said Senator Collins. “What opportunities do you see for greater collaboration among the FDA, CMS, state Medicaid directors, medical societies, and other parties in order to address this problem of appropriate prescribing of opioids?”

Dr. Gottlieb assured Senator Collins that this issue is “…at the top of the list of things that we’re looking at right now…” He also told Senator Collins that, “As part of the steering committee we’ve set up, we’re currently having discussions about what steps we can take to improve provider education and maybe take a look at packaging as well, as a way to help make sure prescriptions more appropriately match the circumstances in which they’re being written.”

In addition, Senator Collins asked Dr. Gottlieb to detail potential solutions to help keep prescription drugs affordable. Senator Collins, the Chairman of the Senate Aging Committee, led the only bipartisan investigation into the causes, impacts, and potential solutions to egregious price spikes for certain off-patent drugs. In one case, a company that purchased an off-patent drug it had played absolutely no role in developing raised its price by 5,000 percent overnight.

“As you know from our numerous discussions, the Senate Aging Committee last year undertook a major investigation examining the explosion in prices of off-patent prescription drugs for which there is no generic equivalent…By one estimate in 2014, such abuses resulted in increased costs to consumers of $5.4 billion per year,” said Senator Collins. “I know that you’ve testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee and noted your concern about this type of anticompetitive behavior. Should Congress revise the REMS law…since there’s only so much that FDA can do now about the problem?”

“I know there’s some legislation Congress is currently contemplating in this regard, and we’d be happy to provide technical assistance with that and I think we already have,” Dr. Gottlieb responded. “I think there are things we can do in the scope of our current authorities, through administrative action, to address this challenge.”