Dec 07 2016
Washington—Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today released the following statement in support of the 21st Century Cures Act:
“I rise in support of the 21st Century Cures Act, which would make vital investments in research to develop new treatments for deadly diseases, including cancer. The bill would also dedicate desperately needed funding to address some of our country’s most pressing public health problems—opioid addiction and mental illness.
First, I’d like to speak about the bill’s provisions for cancer and rare diseases. Cancer touches the lives of all Americans—it doesn’t discriminate. We’ve all experienced the grief and pain that comes with losing a loved one, friend or colleague to this terrible disease.
Cancer is the second leading cause of death in our country. Nearly 40 percent of Americans will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives, according to the National Cancer Institute.
We’ve made great strides in improving detection, treatment and survival rates for many cancers, including early-stage breast cancer, prostate cancer and melanoma. Despite this progress, other cancers like pancreatic and certain brain cancers remain extremely deadly, with very low five-year survival rates. These cancers are typically detected in late stages, and even the most cutting-edge treatments may result in just a few more months of life.
The Cures Act designates nearly $4.8 billion in additional funds for medical research through the National Institutes of Health, $1.8 billion of which will expand and accelerate cancer research, in line with Vice President Biden’s Cancer Moonshot Initiative. This research funding also supports important initiatives focused on precision medicine and neurological research.
Next, I’d like to talk about the bill’s funding to combat opioid addiction, which is an epidemic in this country. Nearly two million Americans are addicted to opioids and 19,000 Americans overdosed and died in 2014. This epidemic stems from a surge in the use of prescription drugs. It’s not a coincidence that prescription overdose deaths quadrupled during the same period that opioid prescriptions quadrupled.
In 2012, 259 million prescriptions for opioids were written. That means 80 percent of Americans could have a bottle of pills. Prescription drug abuse frequently leads to heroin addiction because these drugs affect the brain in the same way. This problem is exacerbated because heroin is significantly cheaper that prescription opioids like OxyContin or fentanyl.
This crisis demands an immediate, comprehensive, national response. Congress took a first step earlier this year, passing the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act in May. This bill authorizes grants to expand access to substance use disorder treatment, strengthen prescription drug monitoring programs and supply first responders with naloxone, which can reverse the effects of an overdose. However, this bill didn’t include any funding for the initiatives it authorized. The Cures Act takes that step, providing $1 billion for the Department of Health and Human Services to fund many of the prevention and treatment programs authorized by Congress earlier this year.
Lastly, I’d like to highlight the bill’s provisions to improve our country’s mental health system. This is an area where we fall far short. We don’t do nearly enough to ensure those with mental illness are able to access appropriate treatment and this has ripple effects throughout society.
In October I was briefed on the homelessness crisis in Los Angeles and toured a shelter for homeless women. A significant percentage of the city’s homeless population is battling mental illness. So, by improving our mental health system, we’re also going to address connected issues like homelessness.
Under the bill, Health and Human Services will develop a strategic plan to address mental health priorities. There is increased funding to train our doctors and nurses to better integrate substance abuse and mental health treatment into primary care visits.
The bill also reauthorizes many important existing programs, including the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, and increases support for mental health and drug courts. These innovative approaches to criminal justice provide an alternative process for individuals to receive and comply with needed treatment and are supported by the law enforcement community.
The bill further provides for police training when police officers encounter individuals who exhibit mental illness. I recently convened meetings in Los Angeles and San Francisco with law enforcement and community leaders, and they stressed the importance of de-escalating situations with mentally-ill individuals to make sure that situations do not end with violent encounters.
In closing, I reiterate my support for the 21st Century Cures Act and urge its swift passage. This is a great opportunity to spur this century’s medical innovation, improve access to needed treatments, and strengthen public health.”