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Pull Pharma Execs Before Congress to Answer for Opioid Crisis, Says Sanders

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) wants pull drug companies before Congress to testify about their potential role in "precipitating and exacerbating the deadly opioid crisis that is sweeping our country."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in December that opioids were involved in 42,249 deaths in 2016, with overdose deaths five times higher in 2016 than 1999.

The five states with the highest rates of death due to drug overdose in 2016 were West Virginia (52.0 per 100,000), Ohio (39.1 per 100,000), New Hampshire (39.0 per 100,000), Pennsylvania (37.9 per 100,000) and Kentucky (33.5 per 100,000).

The epidemic costs the U.S. more than $78 billion per year, according to the CDC.

In a letter to Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Sanders compared the situation to when tobacco company executives faced House lawmakers in a 1994 hearing at which all seven company heads denied that tobacco was addictive. "But the hearing eventually led to real change," the senator noted, adding that the FDA now regulates tobacco and smoking is at an all-time low in the U.S.

Congress must "summon that courage again," Sanders argued, and bring pharmaceutical execs before lawmakers to answer questions about opioids.

“This crisis did not happen in a vacuum. Thanks to the work of many investigative journalists, we know that pharmaceutical companies lied about the addictive impacts of the drugs. In other words, they knew how dangerous these products were, but refused to tell doctors and patients,” he wrote to Alexander. “Yet, while some of these companies have made billions each year in profits, not one of them has been held fully accountable for its role in this crisis.”

“...It is time for the United States Congress to investigate this crisis, to learn what the drug companies knew about these products, and to hold them accountable in helping communities all over this country address this deadly and expensive crisis."

The Senate HELP is holding a hearing Thursday on the impact of the opioid crisis on families and children.