Health Care

Tlaib, Democrats slam GOP calls for border oversight to fight opioid crisis

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (Mich.) and other Democrats on Tuesday slammed Republicans’ calls for oversight of the southern border in order to fight the opioid crisis.

During a hearing on the Sackler family’s role in the epidemic, several Republicans on the House Oversight and Reform Committee called attention to concerns that drug trafficking at the U.S.-Mexico border is contributing to the opioid crisis in the country. 

Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), the panel’s ranking member, criticized Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), the committee’s chairwoman, for not calling a hearing on the “border crisis” and fentanyl trafficking, as demanded by GOP members. He said that Maloney instead prioritized a hearing on the Sackler Act, legislation aimed at preventing the Sackler family from avoiding lawsuits related to the opioid epidemic.

He called the hearing “just show,” as the act was officially sent to the House Judiciary Committee, not the Oversight and Reform Committee. 

“This hearing misses the point,” he said during his opening statement. “It’s so focused on the Sackler family that it forgets the ongoing epidemic affecting millions of Americans each day.”

Tlaib raised her voice when responding to the remarks, saying the Sackler family — whose company produced OxyContin — was at fault, not “immigrants or China.”

“It’s not immigrants or China that are drug-dealing here,” Tlaib said. “It is these kinds of families that are profiting off of that. And how come we’re not equally maybe committed to addressing that I think is really problematic here. That’s the focus of this committee hearing.” 

“We’re talking about people right here in the United States using our own systems and court systems to get away with hurting and killing our neighbors, and we’re doing nothing about it,” she added. “We’re literally turning our heads and pretending like these private citizens, poor babies, they didn’t do it.”

The Sackler Act, introduced by Maloney, is designed to prevent the Sackler family from avoiding government lawsuits related to the opioid crisis after the company — instead of the family itself — filed for bankruptcy. 

In her closing remarks, Maloney expressed her “frustration with my Republican colleagues” for not sponsoring the legislation.

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) labeled the requests for oversight of the border as “an attempt to distract from a main topic.”

He asked witness Alexis Pleus, who lost a son to opioid addiction, her reaction “to the distraction from our Republican colleagues who apparently want to talk about anything but the opioid crisis and the responsibility of the Sackler family in creating it.” 

Pleus responded that she was “disgusted” by committee members’ lack of concentration on the Sackler family, saying, “You are focusing on the wrong thing.”

“It’s stunning to me that this committee has an opportunity to hold the greatest family cartel in the history of the United States and possibly the world responsible for what they’ve done,” she said. “And yet here you are distracting from your opportunity by focusing on the southern border, which is a waste of time, money and resources.” 

Purdue Pharma proposed a reorganization plan submitted to bankruptcy court in March that would allow the Sackler family to be legally released from facing opioid-related lawsuits. 

Under the proposal, the Sackler family would pay almost $4.3 billion over a decade and the company would transfer its assets to another firm focused on fighting the epidemic. 

The proposal has yet to be confirmed in court, but a confirmation hearing is scheduled for the beginning of August. Democrats assert that the proposal’s approval would allow Sackler family members to evade responsibility for their role in the epidemic.

Comer clarified later in the hearing, saying all Republican committee members want to hold the Sackler family accountable. 

“Every Republican on this committee has stated today and in the previous committee hearing that the Sacklers are bad actors,” he said. “Purdue Pharma should be held accountable, and the Sackler family should be held accountable. Every one of us agree with that.”

“What we have stated in this committee hearing that you’ve tried to take out of context is we’ve got a crisis on the southern border,” Comer added. “We’re talking about the drug problem today when as we speak people are crossing that border with illegal drugs. And the Biden administration is doing nothing about it, and even worse, the Democrats on the Oversight Committee are doing nothing about it.”

Tags Border Carolyn Maloney Gerry Connolly House Oversight and Reform Committee James Comer Opioid crisis Opioid epidemic Opioids purdue pharma Rashida Tlaib Sackler Act Sackler family

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