A Democratic senator said he will not remove his hold on President Obama's nominee to lead the Food and Drug Administration nominee even after the agency announced a sweeping plan to tackle drug abuse in an effort to sway the senator.
Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said he would continue his hold on Dr. Robert Califf until the FDA agrees to an even wider review of its process of approving prescription painkillers, which are fueling an opioid epidemic in his state and many others.
Markey's announcement came hours after Califf announced a “a far-reaching action plan to reassess the agency’s approach to opioid medications” – an effort indirectly aimed at removing the roadblock to his nomination.
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who has also deeply criticized the FDA's approach to opioid abuse, said he was also "not impressed" by what he described as a slight improvement to the agency's approach.
Califf, who is currently the FDA’s deputy commissioner for medical products and tobacco, has waited for weeks to be confirmed as the agency's head.
“This plan contains real measures this agency can take to make a difference in the lives of so many people who are struggling under the weight of this terrible crisis,” Califf wrote in a statement announcing the plans.
Deaths from opioids have jumped 200 percent since 2000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Health officials have warned that people addicted to prescription painkillers are more likely to turn to heroin, which is often cheaper and easier to access.
Deaths from prescription drug and heroin overdoses reached an all-time high in 2014, increasing 14 percent from the previous year, the CDC reported.
The Department of Health and Human Services is feeling the pressure to act on opioid abuse from across the Senate.
Recently, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) teamed up in a letter to the CDC calling for new prescribing guidelines for painkillers. Others such as Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) have held field hearings in their home state to raise the profile of the issue.
Shaheen released a statement Thursday praising what she called "long-overdue" action from the FDA.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said earlier this week that fighting drug addiction and preventing overdose deaths would be a goal for both parties in 2016.
“Republicans and Democrats are working together to identify bipartisan solutions to this challenge,” he said after a meeting with the president and Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).