Collins, King Ask DOJ to Provide Guidance on Boosting Support for Forensic Labs in Efforts to Combat Opioid Epidemic

WASHINGTON, D.C. –U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Angus King (I-Maine) joined a bipartisan group of 30 senators in a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, asking him to provide Congress with information detailing how the Department of Justice (DOJ) is supporting and prioritizing forensic science service providers across the nation as a part of a broader approach to combat the opioid epidemic.

“The opioid crisis knows no boundaries; it reaches into homes in every community in every region of this country. Stopping the flow of these drugs is critical to ending the crisis, but to do so requires the ability to trace the drugs to their source.  This demands a forceful and vigorous effort by our forensic science community,” wrote the senators.

The senators continued, “The current opioid crisis has overwhelmed the nation’s collective laboratory systems with more than a 6000% increase in the last four years, according to National Forensic Laboratory Information System (NFLIS) data provided by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors. Case backlogs and turnaround times are growing. Dangerous emerging drugs are not being scheduled to make them illegal, and deaths likely associated with drug overdose are not being investigated completely by medical examiners and coroners.”

The bipartisan coalition of senators, led by Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and John Cornyn (R-TX), called upon the DOJ to provide Congress with a comprehensive list detailing DOJ efforts to support and prioritize forensic science service providers within 30 days, and to also explain how the Department is including grant programs and technical assistance for providers at the state, county, and local levels to help combat the public health crisis. The forensic science community plays a critical role in communities affected by the opioid epidemic. Labs and other forensic science service personnel help local law enforcement and federal agencies trace drugs to their source by helping to analyze evidence, find importers, manufacturers and distributors, and to determine causes of death in overdoses.

As a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Collins has secured significant funding for addiction treatment services. She recently announced that the Senate Appropriations Committee has approved $816 million – a $665 million increase over the past two years – for the Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) opioid abuse treatment and prevention programs. The bill directs $500 million to State opioid crisis grants, which were authorized through the 21st Century Cures Act, a bill that was championed by Senator Collins and signed into law in December 2016.

Senator King has been a leading proponent of providing additional funding to fight the heroin and opioid crisis, which kills more than one person per day in Maine. He has repeatedly called on Congress and both the Obama and Trump administrations to fund laws and agencies that help address the drug epidemic. Last week he led a letter to the Trump Administration urging additional funding for the opioid epidemic, and earlier this month he joined with a group of colleagues to introduce the Combating the Opioid Epidemic Actlegislation that would invest $45 billion for prevention, detection, surveillance and treatment of opioids. Senator King also recently wrote to President Trump urging him to allow the government to negotiate lower prices for life-saving opioid overdose reversal drugs like Naloxone. 

The Senators letter to Attorney General Sessions can be read in full here