September 14, 2021

Durbin Questions Office of National Drug Control Policy Nominee Dr. Rahul Gupta in Judiciary Committee Hearing

WASHINGTON – During today’s Senate Judiciary Committee nominations hearing, U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, questioned Dr. Rahul Gupta, nominated to be Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), about his work addressing the opioid crisis in America.

“I was struck by the fact that you didn’t head to the bright lights in your life. You headed to the communities that needed your help and many times chose rural areas and parts of this country that others might not have chosen in your determination to deal with the drug crisis we currently face,” Durbin said. “Despite the growing evidence of the addictive nature of opioids, many people in your profession – the medical profession – continue to prescribe these in vast quantities. Some of them were clearly with criminal intent. But others seem to be with indifference to whether or not the person became addicted to the product when a conscientious doctor following that patient would’ve realized it over some period of time. But the drug sales [representatives] … pushed many of these doctors to continue to prescribe opioids in indefensible amounts even after we knew they were addictive…Secondly, [the DEA] was authorizing, at Pharma’s request, amounts of those drugs to be produced each year that went way beyond the needs of medical practice. Tell me what you think about those two elements and what you’re going to do about it?” 

Dr. Gupta responded by saying his state of West Virginia was among the worst in terms of opioids being shipped into communities. Dr. Gupta said he took a multidisciplinary and multi-faceted approach to reduce the supply and prescribing of opioids. He also stated there is no doubt there are doctors who have “ill-intent” in prescribing and others who have just overprescribed. He concluded by saying this is a problem of volume and diversion and that he is committed to working with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to fix overprescribing.

Durbin then asked Dr. Gupta about the changing views on addiction and asked him to comment on how we think about and treat those struggling with addiction. Dr. Gupta said he hopes his nomination reflects the importance of looking at the opioid epidemic as the public health crisis that it is.

Video of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s questions in Committee is available here for TV Stations. 

Durbin, along with U.S. Senator John Kennedy (R-LA), was the lead author of the 2018 law that enhanced DEA’s opioid quota-setting authority by improving transparency and enabling DEA to adjust quotas to prevent opioid diversion and abuse while ensuring an adequate supply for legitimate medical needs. 

The DEA is responsible for establishing annual quotas determining the exact amount of each opioid drug that is permitted to be produced in the U.S. each year.  Between 1993 and 2015, DEA allowed aggregate production quotas for oxycodone to increase 39-fold, hydrocodone to increase 12-fold, hydromorphone to increase 23-fold, and fentanyl to increase 25-fold.  As a result, the pharmaceutical industry flooded tens of billions of painkillers to every corner of the nation, which ignited the current opioid epidemic.  After two decades of dramatic increases to the volume of opioids allowed to come to the market, the DEA heeded Durbin and Kennedy’s call over the past four years to help prevent opioid addiction by responsibly reducing nearly all opioid quotas by more than 55 percent. 

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