Before the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform
Chairman Gowdy, Ranking Member Cummings and members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before the committee. I applaud the committee’s efforts over the last year to identify ways to strengthen the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and enhance the federal response to the opioid epidemic.
My testimony today is based on my perspective both as a physician and a public servant. As a physician starting at Johns Hopkins Hospital 16 years ago, I treated many patients with substance abuse disorders, most commonly acute drug or alcohol intoxication.
I was also part of the medical establishment which in the late 1990s and early 2000s began to prescribe opioids, a new class of pain relieving medications at the time marketed to health care professionals as having no addictive properties. That claim as we now know is not and was never true.
Subsequently, as a public servant in the Office of the Secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), I dealt with an array of substance abuse prevention and treatment policy issues. Specifically, as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Health (Science & Medicine), I witnessed firsthand the unique convening ability and leadership role that ONDCP plays in the development, implementation, and tracking of the National Drug Control Strategy.
I also recall the ability of ONDCP to convene timely briefings for executive branch agencies around emerging topics such as neonatal abstinence syndrome, a condition in which a baby experiences withdrawal symptoms after being exposed to substances such as opioids.
The need for an entity such as ONDCP to promote executive branch collaboration and coordination was so apparent that in 2010 HHS created a Behavioral Health Coordinating Council to provide a similar internal forum to address issues such as prescription drug abuse and marijuana.