Rural Opioids

Rural Opioids

David Sparks Ph.D.
David Sparks Ph.D.
As Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Congressman Walden led the charge to combat the opioid epidemic. In 2018 he launched an investigation into opioid manufacturers. In January, Walden relaunched the investigation, demanding answers from Purdue Pharma, Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, and Insys Therapeutics about the role they may have played in creating or worsening the opioid crisis.

When asked what information he hoped to uncover by reactivating the investigation, Walden replied:

“The truth, the facts, the answers. We [originally] went after all those that were involved: the companies, the distributors, the manufacturers, and others. Some of them responded fully, some didn’t. In this case, we think at least three of these companies still have questions to answer. That’s why we have renewed the investigation and expanded it a bit. We want to know what they knew, and when they knew it, and what they did about what they knew,” said Walden.

Walden said there was blame to go around everywhere for the crisis.

“There was a physician [in Las Vegas] who was writing prescriptions that were being filled in West Virginia… Meanwhile, the distributors are supposed to be watching this and red flagging when numbers are increasing out of what should be normal,” said Walden. “And yet, we saw small towns with millions of pills going through -- and nobody doing anything about it.”

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) found that Wasco County had one of Oregon’s highest rates of pain pill prescriptions per person. When asked if that influenced his decision to investigate opioid investigators, Walden replied:

“Absolutely, I was born in The Dalles, which is in Wasco County, and live in Hood River -- two counties all my life. So yeah, it hits close to home. But where it really hits close to home is when you do townhalls… the stories from parents whose kids maybe had a football injury and they get some surgery. They get a few pain pills, and then the kid gets addicted in high school. Pretty soon, it’s from there to heroin, and heroin to fentanyl. They are off on their own, and the next thing is the call that no parent ever wants to get -- it’s the overdose,” said Walden.

Walden went on to emphasize how deadly synthetic opioids are. He shared a heart-breaking story of a young woman who was given pure fentanyl and suffered a lethal overdose. Fentanyl, and its many analogues, can be as much as 10,000 times stronger than heroin. Walden recently led efforts in the House to pass legislation that extends DEA’s ability to combat the use of illicit fentanyl analogues.

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