Senator will convene forum in Boston in August with heads of ONDCP, NIDA, SAMHSA, and state and local officials to discuss comprehensive strategy to address opiate epidemic


Washington (July 23, 2014) – As the nation reels from a heroin and prescription drug epidemic that has resulted in drug overdoses now claiming more lives than car accidents, Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) today introduced new legislation to expand treatment for opioid addiction. The legislation, co-sponsored by lawmakers from regions around the country impacted by the crisis including Senators Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), John D. Rockefeller (D-W.V.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), would expand the ability of trained medical professionals to provide life-saving medication-assisted therapies such as buprenorphine (also called Suboxone) for patients suffering from heroin and prescription drug addiction. Unfortunately, due in part to federal restrictions, of the approximately 2.5 million Americans who abused or were dependent on opioids in 2012, fewer than 40 percent received medication-assisted therapy for their condition. 


The Recovery Enhancement for Addiction Treatment Act (S. 2645, TREAT Act) would help increase the number of patients who have access to treatment by increasing the number of patients doctors can prescribe treatment for, and for the first time, allow certain nurse practitioners and physician assistants to treat addicted patients by providing access to medication assisted treatments. Combined with behavioral therapy, effective medication assisted treatment programs for opioid addiction can decrease overdose deaths, be cost-effective, reduce transmissions of HIV and viral hepatitis, and can reduce other social harms such as criminal activity. The legislation thoughtfully lifts existing federal restrictions that limit access to life saving therapies, emphasizing addiction medicine expertise and quality. 


“Before heroin and prescription drug addiction cuts short more lives in Massachusetts and throughout the country, we need to expand access to life-saving treatment,” said Senator Markey. “Treatment for opioid addiction should not be harder to access than the actual heroin and prescription drugs destroying our communities. The TREAT Act will expand access to medical treatment that works, allowing doctors and trained nurse practitioners to treat more patients and address this scourge of addiction. I look forward to standing alongside my colleagues as we fight this battle of opioid addiction and reduce the tragic effect of this epidemic.” 


“The American Medical Association (AMA) supports a public health approach to addressing the prescription drug abuse epidemic that includes policies and strategies to provide treatment that promotes recovery for patients,” said Robert M. Wah, MD, President of the American Medical Association. “Restricting access to certain prescription drugs for the patients who need them does not stop prescription drug abuse, diversion, overdose or death. In fact, it may lead patients to seek illegal drugs that are more dangerous and have no legitimate medical use. For that reason, the AMA strongly supports the ‘Recovery Enhancement for Addiction Treatment Act,’ which will increase access to office-based treatment of opioid addiction. We commend Sen. Markey for taking action on this important public health issue.”


“We cannot simply arrest and incarcerate our way out of this problem,” said Michael G. Bellotti, Sheriff of Norfolk County and Vice President of the Massachusetts Sheriffs’ Association. “We need to combine access to treatment and counseling with application of the law.  I applaud Senator Markey for helping to get more people into treatment.”


“Increased access to qualified providers and medications for patients and expanding the ability of medical professionals to provide therapies are two critical steps in fighting prescription drug abuse,” said Richard Pieters, M.D., President of the Massachusetts Medical Society, the state’s professional association of physicians with nearly 25,000 members. “The essence of the TREAT Act is that it regards those affected by addiction as patients first and thus targets prescription abuse as a treatable medical condition. Those are perspectives that physicians wholly support.”


“The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) applauds Senator Markey’s efforts to increase access to addiction treatment through the TREAT Act,” said Stuart Gitlow MD, President of the American Society for Addiction Medicine. “The Act will result in patients with addictive disease having greater access to the entire spectrum of treatment, including medication, a modality demonstrated to have treatment efficacy when accompanied by other forms of therapy.”


“We thank Senator Markey for introducing the TREAT Act and for his commitment to expanding access to the treatment of opioid addiction,” said Ken Miller, PhD, RN, CFNP, FAAN, FAANP, President of American Association of Nurse Practitioners. “Nurse practitioners, working in every geographic area of this country, see and treat all types of patients including those with opioid addiction. Allowing NPs to prescribe Buprenorphine, for the treatment of opiate addiction, would increase access to this life saving treatment.”


A copy of the legislation can be found HERE. A one-page summary can be found HERE.


The legislation is endorsed by American Medical Association (AMA), American Society for Addiction Medicine (ASAM), Trust for America’s Health (TFAH), American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), Harm Reduction Coalition, National Association of State and Territorial AIDS Directors (NASTAD), Drug Policy Alliance, Massachusetts Sheriffs’ Association, Association for Behavioral Healthcare Massachusetts, Connecticut Certification Board, Inc., Massachusetts Medical Society, Massachusetts Association of Behavioral Health Systems, Inc. Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO), the Massachusetts Hospital Association and National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO).


Earlier this year, Senator Markey convened roundtables in Taunton and Holyoke, Massachusetts, where he outlined a three-pronged plan to address the opiate epidemic, including greater access to proven addiction treatments. In March, Senator Markey introduced S. 2092, The Opioid Overdose Reduction Act, legislation that would protect individuals who administer lifesaving opioid overdose prevention drugs. The legislation will ensure that individuals who have been properly trained and who administer an opioid prevention drug such as naloxone are protected from civil liability. The bill also ensures that health care professionals who prescribe an opioid overdose drug to a person at risk of overdose or a third party, such as a family member of an abuser, are not liable for civil suits.

Additionally, as part of his push to reduce barriers to the approval of new drugs for addiction, Senator Markey called on the Food and Drug Administration to engage researchers, addiction treatment leaders, and drug developers to develop and approve new therapies that will reduce drug use, as well as reduce the harms associated with it.