Washington (March 3, 2023) – Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Representatives Donald Norcross (NJ-01), Brittany Pettersen (CO-07), David Trone (MD-06), Paul Tonko (NY-20), Jasmine Crockett (TX-30), Kuster (NH-02), Brian Higgins (NY-26), Becca Balint (VT), and Andy Kim (NJ-03) today sent a letter to U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra and Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use (SAMHSA) Miriam Delphin-Rittmon expressing their support for regulations that would expand access to Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) medication treatment, including methadone, while highlighting barriers that will continue to face those seeking access to methadone medication treatment under SAMHSA’s rules. Currently, people being treated for OUD must go to an Opioid Treatment Program (OTP) to receive methadone.
“But while the proposed rules increase individuals’ autonomy, they still leave those with OUD tethered to OTPs, often miles away from where they need treatment most. Under the proposed rules, some people will still be forced to travel to an OTP every day and face the stigma that comes with it. And in states and territories with very few or no OTPs, patients will still not be able to get methadone for OUD prescribed by their doctor and available to pick up at a pharmacy,” lawmakers wrote. “Allowing addiction specialist physicians outside of OTPs to prescribe methadone for OUD for pick-up at pharmacies would result in more people safely getting the medication they need where they can received it – in their communities.
“SAMHSA’s proposed rules are a necessary and long-awaited step forward, but we cannot tolerate any barriers to treatment, as more than 200 people die from overdoses each day,” continued lawmakers. “The status quo of relegating methadone medication for opioid use disorder behind the walls of OTPs leaves this highly effective medication underutilized and stigmatized. Now is the time to do everything in our power to give people access to the medications they need to live healthy and productive lives.”
Ahead of the President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address, Senator Markey led his colleagues in a letter urging the President to announce that he would restore the Director of the Office of National Drug Policy (ONDCP) to a Cabinet-level position to improve drug control efforts across federal agencies and strengthen the Biden administration’s response to the opioid crisis. Last February, Senator Markey introduced the Opioid Treatment Access Act, legislation that would make COVID-19 flexibilities for methadone access permanent and improve access to live-saving methadone treatment for OUD by allowing patients to take-home doses of medication and by authorizing pharmacies to dispense methadone for the first time. In July 2021, Senator Markey reintroduced two pieces of legislation—the Safer Prescribing of Controlled Substances Act and the Lessening Addiction by Enhancing Labeling (LABEL) Opioids Act—to improve education on the risks associated with prescribed opioids and to require warning labels on addictive opioid medications.