Aug 10, 2021
Dick Durbin Senate Floor Speech on Opioid Crisis, Sackler Family Transcript
Senator Dick Durbin spoke about the opioid crisis and demanded accountability for the Sackler family on August 10, 2021. Read the transcript of his remarks here.
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Dick Durbin: (00:03)
Mr. President 2020 set a record for drug overdose deaths in America. More than 93,000 lives were lost in the year 2020. In Illinois, 3,500 of our neighbors died of an overdose, a 27% spike from the year before. How did we get to this point? Who’s responsible for this? There is one clear culprit, the pharmaceutical industry. For years opioid manufacturers deliberately lied about the risks of their drugs, deliberately. These companies have claimed their painkillers should be prescribed for common aches and pains. They even downplayed their addictive nature, even though their research showed that it was a very real danger.
Dick Durbin: (00:53)
These companies then shipped mountains of these pills to every corner of America. They aggressively promoted them to doctors with the backing of dark money organizations. This epidemic wasn’t created by some infectious virus, it was created by corporate greed, corporate greed. In the words of Richard Sackler, a Purdue pharma, his company chose to flood our streets with, “A blizzard of prescriptions that will bury the competition.”
Dick Durbin: (01:27)
It ended up burying the users. As a result, 500,000 Americans families have had to bury loved ones who died of opioid overdoses and addictions since the start of the opioid epidemic. 500,000 Americans, a figure in the same range as the 610,000 Americans we’ve lost to COVID-19. The numbers are numbing. From 2006 to 2014 drug companies like Purdue Pharma inundated the country with 100 billion pain pills, 100 billion. Let that soak in. That’s roughly 300 opioid pills for every living American.
Dick Durbin: (02:21)
They flooded communities like the rural County of Hardin in downstate Illinois. They received enough opioids in Harlan and Hardin County for each resident to have a three month supply. Some counties in West Virginia and Kentucky had twice that level of oversupply. One former rep, even bragged, “I don’t know how they could even house this many bottles.” Another wrote, “Keep them coming, flying out of here. It’s like people are addicted to these things. Oh, wait, people are.” That level of greed and disregard for human suffering is an outrage. And the companies responsible must be held accountable. You may be asking why haven’t we done that already? It’s a good question because not only was the federal Drug Enforcement Administration aware of this obscene volume of overproduction, they authorized it. They gave permission. The Drug Enforcement Administration of the United States federal government is responsible for determining the amount of opioid pills allowed to be put on the market each year.
Dick Durbin: (03:30)
They are effectively the gatekeeper for these drug manufacturers. And for years, years, they allowed opioid production quotas to keep increasing. Between 1993 and 2015 production of oxycodone increased 39 fold, hydrocodone 12 fold, fentanyl 25 fold.
Dick Durbin: (03:54)
In 2016, America’s pharmaceutical industry produced 14 billion opioid doses in 2016 alone, enough for every adult in America to have a three week supply of opioids. Think about that, authorized by the federal government, requested by the pharmaceutical industry. We put a quota that Pharma asked for to produce 14 billion opioid pills in a year enough for every American to have a three week supply. Any wonder that we had an opioid epidemic? I pressed the Drug Enforcement Administration on this issue years ago, when I learned of this. I asked them, how can you approve these ever increasing quotas? Pharma is insatiable. They will ask for as many pills as they can possibly push into the American people’s families, especially when DEA had data that showed this overproduction was fueling a deadly national drug crisis.
Dick Durbin: (04:59)
A couple of years ago, I worked with my Republican colleagues, Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana to start stemming the tide of addictive drugs. We passed a bipartisan bill that gave the DEA the authority they said they needed to set common sense production levels. We changed the law, so the DEA must consider abuse, overdose deaths and the public health impact when determining opioid quotas. Our approach worked partially. Over the past five years, the DEA has lowered opioid quotas by an average of 60%. DEA, this federal agency will soon be proposing it’s 2022 quotas, and I’m sending a letter urging them to use their new authority and common sense to reign in the greed of big pharma. In the face of all this suffering new legal challenge has been brought to hold big pharma accountable for death and despair of the opioid epidemic. Thousands of lawsuits from states counties, cities, victims, have been consolidated in one federal court in Cleveland, Ohio.
Dick Durbin: (06:06)
This movement reminded me of another breakthrough moment in public health when our nation came together to hold big tobacco accountable for its misleading marketing over the decades. We started holding these companies accountable in 1998 with The Master Tobacco Settlement Agreement. That settlement was estimated to provide states with $246 billion over 25 years. But despite the pressing need only a tiny fraction, a meager 8% of that amount was actually dedicated to tobacco prevention and cessation activities. Instead with the permission of Congress, tens of billions from that settlement have gone toward filling gaps in state budgets and funding pet projects like roads and bridges, stadiums even a Tobacco Museum. As new opioid settlements are reached, we must learn from the missed opportunity with tobacco lawsuits. We must ensure that the funds from forthcoming opioid settlements are used to fortify health systems, so they can respond to the current opioid crisis and prevent our next drug epidemic.
Dick Durbin: (07:18)
All of us know what’s going on out there. Even people who acknowledge their opioid addiction and are desperate for treatment and need help immediately wait for weeks and months to enter a drug rehab facility. That’s just unacceptable. We need community and residential based treatment. We need to expand Naloxone access. We need to bolster our behavioral health workforce. We need to address the childhood trauma often at the root of addiction and other public health strategies.
Dick Durbin: (07:52)
Mr. President, one of the things which I believe is essential as our kids get back to school after the pandemic experience, we need more counselors on the scene, at the schools dealing with these kids in this transition back into somewhat normal life. These are critical moments in a child’s formation, and I hope that we can have resources available to help them. The best way to hold big pharma accountable is by compelling these companies to pay the price for fueling this crisis and their restitution should be devoted to helping America healed.
Dick Durbin: (08:28)
Last month a bipartisan group of state attorneys general announced the framework of a litigation settlement involving Johnson & Johnson and the nation’s three largest drug distributors. The companies would pay a total of $26 billion over 18 years to resolve the suits in addition to changing their business practices. The work isn’t over yet and I applaud the state attorney’s general for their extensive work involving these opioid defendants. Legal proceedings continue for several other key industry stakeholders that have yet to be held accountable. That includes the Sackler family of Purdue and OxyContin Infamy. The Sacklers are trying to engineer a legal scheme to escape liability through the bankruptcy court. That’s the family that started Purdue Pharma, that was responsible for this opioid crisis. They think they found a venue now, a bankruptcy court that is going to get them off the hook, or at least make sure they can protect the money they’ve made off of this criminal enterprise.
Dick Durbin: (09:34)
The Sacklers are trying to engineer a legal scheme to escape liability for their conduct through the bankruptcy court, avoiding future lawsuits while paying $4.5 billion while protecting their vast fortune estimated at over $11 billion. That’s why Senator Warren and I recently teamed up to introduce the Nondebtor Release Prohibition Act, which would prevent the nonconsensual release of liability through bankruptcy proceedings. Translations, the Sacklers should not get a discounted ticket to ride into the sunset, protecting their billions of dollars. They need to be held personally accountable and the amount that is charged against them should reflect the gravity of their conduct. As legal proceedings continue against other opioid industry defendants, we must demand that the worst corporate actors are held accountable for their role in this crisis. Far too many families have suffered as a result of corporate greed and malfeasance.
Dick Durbin: (10:46)
Mr. President, I have one additional statement which I ask to be placed in the record. I would just like to speak for a moment or two on that statement.
Speaker 2: (10:57)
Dick Durbin: (10:58)
Mr President sometimes you have the best of luck in life and it’s not planned, but neighbors of ours in Springfield, Illinois, Tom and Bridget Lamond have invited us to join them at their little house on Lake Michigan, up in Leelanau Peninsula of the state of Michigan.
Dick Durbin: (11:19)
In that time we’ve had great experiences together and we’ve come to know a terrific little shop called Barb’s Donuts in Northport, Michigan. After years and years of wonderful service and great product they are giving up the business soon. And I put in the record a tribute to Barb’s Donuts of Northport, Michigan. I am joined in this tribute by Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, the senators of Michigan. And I ask consent that this statement be made a part of the record.
Speaker 2: (11:54)
Dick Durbin: (11:55)
Thank you, Mr. President, I yield the floor. Suggests the absence of a quorum.