Today’s vote is a step in the right direction, but cannot be the end of Congress’ work to end the opioid epidemic


Washington (October 3, 2018) – Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) today applauded Senate passage of bicameral, bipartisan consensus opioid legislation. This package contains dozens of policies and programs that will help improve the national response to the prescription drug, heroin, and illicit fentanyl epidemic that claimed an estimated 49,000 lives in 2017. Included in the final package are several provisions based off legislation Senator Markey has introduced within the last year. 


“Today’s vote shows what Congress can achieve when we put bipartisanship over paralysis, especially when it comes to tackling one of the biggest public health threats facing our country. This is a milestone for those of us that have been fighting this crisis for nearly a decade and a life line to families devastated by addiction,” said Senator Markey. “The proposals we passed today will help expand access to opioid use disorder treatment, connect individuals to life-saving care, promote recovery supports, and help prevent addiction from taking hold in the first place. This will save lives and heal families in Massachusetts.”


“This effort cannot and will not be the end of our efforts to solve this crisis. I will continue fighting for mandatory prescriber education to ensure that all providers have uniform training on prescribing opioids. I will work to ensure all prescription opioids dispensed by a pharmacist contain a clear, concise label warning of the risks of this medication in the absence of that education.”


“I thank my colleagues in the House and Senate for their work on this legislation and their commitment to addressing this epidemic. I dedicate today’s actions to the hundreds of men and women who have told me their story or the story of a loved one taken away too soon. I look forward to building upon today’s efforts to provide much-needed relief to families, first-responders, and communities on the front lines of the opioid overdose crisis.”


Several provisions included in the legislation are based off the following Markey bills:


Addiction Treatment Access Improvement Act (S.2317)

In January 2018, Senators Markey, Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), and Susan Collins (R-Maine) introduced legislation that will expand access to medication-assisted therapies for opioid addiction. The legislation codifies a 2016 regulation that expanded the number of patients qualified physicians could treat with life-saving medication-assisted therapies such as buprenorphine (also called Suboxone) from 100 to 275. It also builds upon a pilot program established in the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016 that allows nurse practitioners and physicians assistants to prescribe buprenorphine, making this authorization permanent and expanding the types of professionals who qualify. The final bill provides permanent prescriber authority to nurse practitioners and physicians assistants, and extends that authority to clinical nurse specialists, certified nurse midwives, and certified-registered nurse anesthetists for five years.


Eliminating Opioid-Related Infectious Diseases Act (S.2579)

In March 2018, Senators Markey, Todd Young (R-Ind.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) introduced legislation that would authorize the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to expand the scope of an existing CDC initiative to focus on eliminating infectious diseases caused by injection drug use. This includes working with states to improve education, surveillance, and treatment of opioid use-related infectious diseases like HIV and viral hepatitis.


National Milestones to Measure Progress in Ending the Opioid Epidemic Act (S.2931)

In May 2018, Senators Markey, Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and Maggie Hassan introduced the Milestones Act, legislation that would require the federal government to set tangible benchmarks for how it is addressing the opioid crisis and by measuring progress on key objectives each year. These objectives include reducing overdose deaths, expanding treatment availability, increasing the number of individuals in sustained recovery, and decreasing emergency room visits for overdoses.


Supporting Positive Outcomes After Release Act (S.3445)

In September 2018, Senator Markey reintroduced his legislation that would prohibit states from terminating an inmate’s Medicaid coverage while they are incarcerated, a practice that often prevents individuals from accessing treatment in the critical days and weeks after release. The legislation would prohibit states from terminating eligible individuals’ Medicaid because of incarceration, and instead, with coverage only temporarily suspended, ensure access to health care services more quickly upon release. The final bill would apply this policy to individuals on Medicaid under the age of 21 who are incarcerated.


After the Senate passed its opioid legislation in September, Senator Markey vowed to continue working to include a provision in the final opioid package that would increase access to effective medication-assisted treatment by permanently allowing nurse practitioners and physicians assistants to provide life-saving therapies, such as buprenorphine, and expanding that authority to other trained nursing professionals. Senators Markey and Rand Paul led a bipartisan, bicameral letter to Senate and House negotiators, urging them to include the House-passed version of this provision in the final package. A copy of that letter can be found HERE


This provision to expand medication-assisted treatment was adopted into the final opioid bill that passed the Senate today. Other Markey provisions included in the package would address increased rates of infectious diseases associated with injection drug use, such as HIV or viral hepatitis, and would require the federal government to create a national plan to measure progress in fighting the opioid crisis. Such a plan would help federal agencies understand whether policies and resources are being used in ways that have a measurable impact on the public’s health. The final package also contains a version of Markey-backed legislation that would require states to suspend, rather than terminate, Medicaid coverage for inmates under the age of 21 during incarceration. This policy is critical to quickly connecting individuals to health care, particularly substance use disorder treatment, upon re-entry, helping to reduce the likelihood of an overdose or relapse during the vulnerable first few weeks in the community.


The final opioid package passed the Senate today with a vote of 98-1, and passed the House of Representatives last week 393-8. The legislation now heads to the president’s desk for his signature.