Tuberville Questions Dr. Murthy, Dr. Levine at HELP Hearing

Senator Tuberville raised concerns over rising drug use among minors during the pandemic

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) today questioned Surgeon General nominee Dr. Vivek Murthy and Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) nominee Dr. Rachel Levine during a Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) hearing and pressed them on their plans to address rising drug use and mental issues among minors during the COVID-19 pandemic. Excerpts from Senator Tuberville’s line of questioning can be found below and the full video can be found here.

On Combatting Rising Drug Use and the Pandemic’s Effects on Rural Areas:

TUBERVILLE: “I’ve been in education for 40 years. I ‘ve seen a lot of words put into protecting our kids from drugs…dealing with 17-to-24-year-olds for 40 years, it’s different every day, but we’ve got to find an answer. We’ve got to find a solution because it’s not going to get any better by just saying it’ll go away on its own. We’re losing 50 to 60 thousand kids a year dying of overdose. We talked about COVID, and it’s our biggest problem now, but we have to do something.”

“I live in Alabama – we’ve lost 14 rural hospitals in the last 10 years because we’re losing nurses and doctors. We don’t have enough. We don’t have enough hospitals to take care of our patients. Dr. Murthy, for you, other than telemedicine which were using, what can we do? The only thing we have now in our rural areas is our pharmacies, and now those are starting to go under because, if you think about it, that’s really our hospital or our doctor and our consultant for health care in our rural areas. But these PBMs are absolutely putting our pharmacies under because there’s a middleman between the drug companies in the pharmacies, and they’re taking all the profits. But what else can we do in the rural areas?”

MURTHY: “Well, Senator, I think this is such an important point, and I realize that the challenges that you’re speaking to in Alabama are likely being experienced in other rural areas in our country, too – that you’re struggling without enough healthcare providers, and they’re watching rural hospitals close down, as well. There are a couple of things Senator, you know, in addition to telehealth, which you mentioned, the couple of the areas I think we need to focus on is on strengthening our rural health workforce, where we see often clinicians get trained and then relocate or stay in urban areas and we don’t have enough nurses and doctors in rural areas, but we can address that.”

On Nominees’ Priorities for the Department of Health and Human Services:

TUBERVILLE: “Of course, being a football coach and educator, I worked in mental health for 40 years, because I see a lot of it…  we seem to see, over the last 10-12 years, more and more problems with mental health with our young people. What do you think is the answer to that? And what would the first direction in your job be to overcome some of that?”

LEVINE: “We do share a concern about young people and their mental health. At Penn State Hershey Medical Center, I ran the adolescent medicine program where we saw many young people with medical issues as well as mental health issues. I think that we need to work on prevention, and we need to work on access for treatment. I think we need prevention programs to prevent mental health problems in our schools. I think we need prevention programs in our communities and community health centers as well. And I think we need to increase access to treatment whether that’s in urban areas, suburban areas, or rural areas.”

TUBERVILLE: “Dr. Murthy you’ve been through this job one time. What’s your number one priority that you feel like that you can do better at this time?”

MURTHY: “My priority first and foremost is to address COVID, to turn this pandemic around. There are issues that have been worsened by COVID, mental health and substance use disorders.”

“My son is doing remote learning as well and desperately wants to be back with other kids but can’t, and there are many families I know that are struggling much more than we are. I want those families to be able to get back to their lives. I want our kids to be able to get back to school. I want people to be able to go to work and not worry every day that they’re going to catch the virus and get sick. I want us to be able to come together as a community again.”