New legislation would require education on responsible prescribing of opioid pain medication


Calls on VA, Defense Dept., Indian Health Services participate in state efforts to monitor prescription drugs


Leads bipartisan group urging DEA to reinstitute successful National Drug Take Back Days


Washington (May 20, 2015) – As part of his ongoing efforts to promote a comprehensive strategy for the prescription drug and heroin epidemic, Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) today unveiled several new efforts focused on the prevention of opioid addiction. Senator Markey is introducing new legislation, the Safe Prescribing of Controlled Substances Act, which would require prescribers of opioid pain medications and other controlled substances to undergo mandatory training on safe prescribing practices and the identification of possible substance use disorders. Additionally, Senator Markey is calling on the Veterans Administration (VA), Department of Defense and Indian Health Services (IHS) to require its providers to participate in state Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs). PDMPs are a critical front line tool to help state law enforcement and public health officials better monitor drug dispensing practices, ultimately helping identify potential abuse and misuse. Finally, Senator Markey is leading a bipartisan group of senators in calling on the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to reinstate its successful National Prescription Drug Take-Back Days, which help Americans safely and securely dispose of unwanted and potentially dangerous prescription drugs that are frequently abused.  


“We need to prevent prescription drug and heroin addiction before it takes hold, and all these efforts are a key component of the comprehensive strategy necessary to address this public heath crisis.


“Sadly, with only five percent of the world’s population consuming nearly 99 percent of the global supply of hydrocodone, we have become the United States of Vicodin,” said Senator Markey. “We need to stop the over-prescription of opioid pain medication and ensure prescribers are educated in responsible prescribing practices and can identify possible substance use disorders in patients. This legislation is an important part of the prevention of drug overdoses that are fueled by prescription painkillers and heroin.”


The Safe Prescribing of Controlled Substances Act requires that prescribers that are applying for a DEA license to prescribe controlled substances, such as prescription painkillers, complete mandatory education that will focus on best practices for pain management and alternative non-opioid therapies for pain, methods for diagnosing and treating a substance use disorder, linking patients to evidence based treatment for substance use disorders, and tools to manage adherence and diversion of controlled substances, including PDMPs. The legislation also requires that HHS evaluate after how implementing this new education requirement impacts prescribing patterns.


“ASAM is pleased to offer our support of Senator Markey’s bill to require certain practitioners authorized to prescribe controlled substances to complete continuing education,” said the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM). “ASAM has long believed that mandatory education of physicians and all other health professionals licensed to prescribe, dispense or administer prescription drugs is a key strategy in modifying the epidemic of misuse of and addiction to scheduled medications, and we applaud Senator Markey’s leadership in introducing legislation that will help ensure prescribers are well-trained in the safe use of scheduled medications.”


A copy of the Safe Prescribing of Controlled Substances Act can be found HERE.


Additionally, Senator Markey sent letters today to the VA, Defense Department and IHS requesting that all of its health providers participate in the state PDMPs in which facilities are located. The populations that each of these federal agencies serve have higher rates of substance use–related problems that put them at greater risk of addiction and social problems such as violence, suicide and incarceration. In order for state PDMPs to function as an important tool in reducing prescription drug abuse and diversion, Senator Markey is requesting that all prescribers, including federal prescribers and pharmacists in these agencies, participate in these state programs.


A copy of the letter to the VA can be found HERE. A copy of the letter to the Department of Defense can be found HERE. A copy of the letter to Indian Health Services can be found HERE.


Senator Markey also is leading a bipartisan group of Senators in a letter to the DEA calling for it to stop its plan to end the successful National Prescription Drug Take-Back Days. In the letter, the senators point out that last year, the DEA and more than 4,000 of its partners collected 309 tons of unwanted drugs at nearly 5,500 sites around the country. The annual day has become an easy, well-known and convenient way for Americans to dispose of unneeded, unwanted and unused prescription drugs.


It is evident that the promotion and support of DEA in sponsoring National Prescription Drug Take-Back Days have been an incredibly important piece of the puzzle in addressing the opioid overdose epidemic and we urge DEA to reconsider its cessation of the public outreach program and reinstitute National Prescription Drug Take-Back Days,” write the lawmakers in the letter to the DEA.


A copy of the letter to the DEA can be found HERE.


Other Senators signing the letter to DEA include Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.V.), Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). 


Yesterday, Senator Markey partnered with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to call on the Surgeon General’s to issue a comprehensive report and Call to Action on prescription drug and heroin abuse.


Last fall, Senator Markey released a plan to address the prescription drug and heroin epidemic, outlining a series of policy recommendations for federal agencies, Congress and the Obama administration to act upon to address the current crisis. In 2014, Senator Markey convened roundtables in Boston, Taunton and Holyoke, Massachusetts to develop this comprehensive strategy to address the opiate addiction and overdose epidemic. This spring, he introduced the Opioid Overdose Reduction Act, bipartisan legislation that would protect individuals who administer lifesaving opioid overdose prevention drugs from legal liability.