Latest from Lamar: How the opioid crisis is affecting Tennessee children and families

Senator Lamar Alexander
2018-02-12 18:59:24
Latest from Lamar, Notes from the Senate Desk *Last week, the Senate health committee I chair held our fourth hearing this Congress on the opioid crisis, to look at its impact on Tennessee children and families. * The opioid crisis is particularly heartbreaking for Tennessee children and families. No one understands that more than Jessie, an East Tennessee woman who lost a baby during the nearly two decades she struggled with an addiction to opioids and other substances. Today, Jessie is in recovery and is a powerful resource for pregnant women in East Tennessee who are addicted to opioids -- providing support and encouragement to women going through the same battles she fought during her recovery. Tennessee is on the front lines as this crisis has caused what the Tennessee Department of Health has described as a "sharp increase" in neonatal abstinence syndrome, or the number of babies born struggling with opioid withdrawal. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of infants born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS, and who go through withdrawal symptoms from opioids has tripled from 1999 to 2013 - and Tennessee has a rate of three times the national average. The opioid crisis affects more than just infants - many grandparents and relatives have taken on the role of caregiver for children whose parents are addicted to opioids. In Tennessee, between 2010 and 2014, there was a 51 percent increase in the number of parents who lost parental rights because of an opioid addiction. While that is a lot of numbers, they represent real families and children whose lives are being impacted by the opioid crisis. It is important to hear how states are helping ensure newborns and children impacted by drug abuse are being cared for. At our hearing last week, I asked our witnesses, including Dr. Stephen Patrick of Vanderbilt University Medical Center, if they need changes to federal law or regulations to help improve that care. I appreciated their input because I am working on a package of bills to help states and communities address the opioid crisis. I hope to have them ready for the health committee to approve as soon as the end of March. Last week I, along with the lead Democrat on our committee, Senator Patty Murray, and Senators Todd Young and Maggie Hassan, introduced the first bill. It would give the National Institutes of Health more flexibility to conduct cutting-edge research related to the opioid crisis, including to spur the development of a non-addictive painkiller - which could really be the antidote to the opioid crisis. *Last Tuesday, I met with members of the Tennessee School Boards Association to talk about the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act - legislation I sponsored and Congress passed in 2015 to fix No Child Left Behind. School boards played a key role in how the law was written and they are helping make sure the law is being implemented the way it was written, which was to reverse the trend towards a national school board. * *To make college more affordable, we should simplify loans, cut red tape, and encourage innovation and accountability * Last Tuesday, the Senate education committee I chair held a hearing on the cost of going to college. While it is never easy to pay for college, it is easier than many people think, and it is unfair and untrue to suggest that for most students college is financially out of reach. In 2015, Tennessee became the first state to offer two years of tuition-free education at community colleges and technical institutes to every high school graduate through Tennessee Promise. At the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, one-third of students have a Pell Grant, which is worth up to $5,920. In addition, 98 percent of in-state freshmen also receive a Hope Scholarship from the State of Tennessee, which provides up to $3500 annually for the first two years and up to $4500 for the next two years. If a student receives both a Pell grant and the Hope Scholarship, that nearly covers the full cost of tuition. Despite this, there is no doubt college costs are rising and that a growing number of students are having trouble paying back their debt. The Senate education committee I chair has held 22 hearings over the last four and a half years in preparation for reauthorizing the Higher Education Act and produced a number of proposals to reduce the cost of going to college and making it more affordable - that do not necessarily include asking the taxpayer to spend more money on student aid. These include ideas to: First, simplify the FAFSA -- the burdensome Free Application for Federal Student Aid that 20 million families struggle to fill out each year - to remove it as a barrier to college and help students better understand the range of schools they can afford. Second, simplify the existing federal student aid system of grants, loans, and repayment plans and redirect some of those dollars to higher priorities, such as creating additional Pell grants. Third, more competency based education would allow students to more rapidly complete degrees based on knowledge and learning, not time in the classroom, therefore saving the student money. And fourth, hold schools accountable for their students' ability to repay their loans--it makes no sense to spend taxpayer dollars helping students earn degrees that are not worth their time and money. *It was great to meet with members of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities last week. I appreciated their input as we continue to work on reauthorizing the Higher Education Act. * On February 2, President Trump announced his intent to nominate John Ryder of Tennessee to serve on the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) Board of Directors. I was glad to join Senator Corker in recommending him for membership on the TVA Board. John is a respected leader in Shelby County and in our state. He understands that TVA's mission is to continue to provide cheap, clean, reliable electricity for homes and businesses throughout the seven-state Tennessee Valley region. I look forward to his confirmation by the United States Senate. *On Tuesdays in Washington when the Senate is in session, Senator Bob Corker and I welcome Tennesseans to join us for coffee and donuts at "Tennessee Tuesday." We share updates on what we're working on so if you're planning a visit to Washington, let us know. *Passing a two year budget agreement to fund important priorities * Last week, Congress passed and President Trump signed a 2-year budget agreement into law that sets important priorities for our nation: fighting the opioid crisis, ending sequestration funding restrictions on our military, and improving our nation's roads, bridges, locks and dams. It also extends funding for the community health centers that nearly 400,000 Tennesseans rely on for their health care, and extends funding for CoverKids, which provides health insurance to nearly 74,000 Tennessee children and pregnant women. Always keep in mind this advice from Minnie Pearl: "I've gotten to the point in life where I've decided that if people aren't nice, they're not so hot in my book, no matter how big they are."
   

Last week, the Senate health committee I chair held our fourth hearing this Congress on the opioid crisis, to look at its impact on Tennessee children and families.

 

The opioid crisis is particularly heartbreaking for Tennessee children and families. No one understands that more than Jessie, an East Tennessee woman who lost a baby during the nearly two decades she struggled with an addiction to opioids and other substances. Today, Jessie is in recovery and is a powerful resource for pregnant women in East Tennessee who are addicted to opioids — providing support and encouragement to women going through the same battles she fought during her recovery.

 

Tennessee is on the front lines as this crisis has caused what the Tennessee Department of Health has described as a “sharp increase” in neonatal abstinence syndrome, or the number of babies born struggling with opioid withdrawal. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of infants born with neonatal abstinence syndrome, or NAS, and who go through withdrawal symptoms from opioids has tripled from 1999 to 2013 – and Tennessee has a rate of three times the national average. The opioid crisis affects more than just infants – many grandparents and relatives have taken on the role of caregiver for children whose parents are addicted to opioids. In Tennessee, between 2010 and 2014, there was a 51 percent increase in the number of parents who lost parental rights because of an opioid addiction.

 

While that is a lot of numbers, they represent real families and children whose lives are being impacted by the opioid crisis. It is important to hear how states are helping ensure newborns and children impacted by drug abuse are being cared for. At our hearing last week, , if they need changes to federal law or regulations to help improve that care. 

 

I appreciated their input because I am working on a package of bills to help states and communities address the opioid crisis. I hope to have them ready for the health committee to approve as soon as the end of March. Last week I, along with the lead Democrat on our committee, Senator Patty Murray, and Senators Todd Young and Maggie Hassan, the first bill. It would give the National Institutes of Health more flexibility to conduct cutting-edge research related to the opioid crisis, including to spur the development of a non-addictive painkiller - which could really be the antidote to the opioid crisis. 

 

You can read more about our bill  

I talk some more about the scope of the problem in Tennessee

To make college more affordable, we should simplify loans, cut red tape, and encourage innovation and accountability

Last Tuesday, the Senate education committee I chair held a hearing on the cost of going to college. While it is never easy to pay for college, it is easier than many people think, and it is unfair and untrue to suggest that for most students college is financially out of reach. In 2015, Tennessee became the first state to offer two years of tuition-free education at community colleges and technical institutes to every high school graduate through Tennessee Promise. At the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, one-third of students have a Pell Grant, which is worth up to $5,920. In addition, 98 percent of in-state freshmen also receive a Hope Scholarship from the State of Tennessee, which provides up to $3500 annually for the first two years and up to $4500 for the next two years. If a student receives both a Pell grant and the Hope Scholarship, that nearly covers the full cost of tuition.

 

Despite this, there is no doubt college costs are rising and that a growing number of students are having trouble paying back their debt. The Senate education committee I chair has held 22 hearings over the last four and a half years in preparation for reauthorizing the Higher Education Act and produced a number of proposals to reduce the cost of going to college and making it more affordable – that do not necessarily include asking the taxpayer to spend more money on student aid.

 

These include ideas to: First, simplify the FAFSA — the burdensome Free Application for Federal Student Aid that 20 million families struggle to fill out each year – to remove it as a barrier to college and help students better understand the range of schools they can afford. Second, simplify the existing federal student aid system of grants, loans, and repayment plans and redirect some of those dollars to higher priorities, such as creating additional Pell grants. Third, more competency based education would allow students to more rapidly complete degrees based on knowledge and learning, not time in the classroom, therefore saving the student money. And fourth, hold schools accountable for their students’ ability to repay their loans—it makes no sense to spend taxpayer dollars helping students earn degrees that are not worth their time and money. You can read more about our hearing here.

 

 

It was great to meet with members of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities last week. I appreciated their input as we continue to work on reauthorizing the Higher Education Act.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On February 2, President Trump announced his intent to nominate John Ryder of Tennessee to serve on the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) Board of Directors. I was glad to join Senator Corker in recommending him for membership on the TVA Board. John is a respected leader in Shelby County and in our state. He understands that TVA’s mission is to continue to provide cheap, clean, reliable electricity for homes and businesses throughout the seven-state Tennessee Valley region. I look forward to his confirmation by the United States Senate.

 

 

On Tuesdays in Washington when the Senate is in session, Senator Bob Corker and I welcome Tennesseans to join us for coffee and donuts at “Tennessee Tuesday.” We share updates on what we’re working on so if you’re planning a visit to Washington, let us know. Some information

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