Washington (May 8, 2023) – In light of the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) new report, which finds that drug overdose deaths involving fentanyl have increased nearly four-fold in recent years, Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Subcommittee on Primary Health and Retirement Security and a member of the Commission on Combating Synthetic Opioid Trafficking, and Representatives Annie Kuster (NH-02) and Lisa Blunt Rochester (DE-01) today announced the reintroduction of the Stop Fentanyl Overdoses Act to empower the nation’s public health response against the opioid epidemic. According to the CDC’s report, the rate of fatal, fentanyl-related drug overdoses in the United States has risen rapidly in the past decade. In 2013, fentanyl was involved in 1 death for every 100,000 people; in 2021, the drug was involved in about 22 deaths for every 100,000 people. 

“A single life lost to the opioid epidemic is one life too many. The drug overdose crisis is devastating communities across the country. It knows no bounds—crossing state lines and harming Americans no matter their identity or ideology. And we are losing the fight. Tens of thousands of lives taken in a single year is an absolute and avoidable tragedy,” said Senator Markey. “The opioid epidemic is a product of Big Pharma’s greed, and in the past decade, it has only gotten worse. Congress has an obligation to meet this crisis head on by ensuring we have all the tools available to understand current trends in the opioid epidemic and empower public health professionals to provide people the care they need.”

“As the mental health and substance use disorder crisis continues to evolve, so must our national response,” said Representative Kuster, founder and co-chair of the Bipartisan Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Task Force. “I’m proud to introduce this legislation to bolster our national response to the overdose epidemic and connect individuals with treatment and recovery programs. We cannot turn our backs on those struggling with substance use disorder, and I look forward to working across the aisle to address this crisis that impacts communities nationwide.”

“Synthetic opioids, like fentanyl, have had a devastating impact throughout Delaware and across the United States, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Representative Blunt Rochester. “Due to the stark rise in overdose fatalities from fentanyl, it is time for Congress to take long-term action to save lives. I am proud to join my colleagues, Senator Markey and Congresswoman Annie Kuster, to introduce this legislation, which will give communities the tools to comprehensively address this epidemic through education, prevention, and treatment.”

Specifically, the Stop Fentanyl Overdoses Act addresses the opioid epidemic and overdose crisis by:  

  1. Expanding testing for fentanyl and related substances and increasing information-sharing by public health departments and law enforcement for the purpose of identifying public health threats and preventing overdoses;
  2. Providing grant funding to compile overdose data through the CDC and facilitate surveillance of seized heroin, fentanyl, and associated synthetic drugs by forensic laboratories;
  3. Limiting civil and criminal liability under specified laws for individuals who administer opioid overdose reversal medication to an individual who reasonably appears to be experiencing an overdose;
  4. Establishing a program to offer medication treatment for opioid use disorder (OUD) to individuals who are incarcerated;
  5. Providing grant funding to states and local government entities to educate health care providers, criminal justice professionals, and substance use disorder treatment personnel on the current state of research on treatment for opioid dependence; and
  6. Requiring reporting that will help to enhance surveillance, prevention, and treatment efforts, including a report on naloxone access and affordability, international mail and cargo screening, and overdose prevention centers.    

Representatives Paul Tonko (NY-20), Don Bacon (NE-02), and Nanette Diaz Barragán (CA-44) are cosponsors in the House. 

The Stop Fentanyl Overdoses Act is endorsed by the Grayken Center for Addiction at Boston Medical Center, Partnership to End Addiction, the Association for Multidisciplinary Education and Research in Substance Use and Addiction (AMERSA), and Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association.

“As U.S. overdose deaths continue to climb, and synthetic opioids like fentanyl dominate the drug supply, it is essential that we increase access to evidence-based treatments for opioid use disorder, and invest further in overdose prevention and other harm reduction interventions. A key, untapped, evidence-based intervention that can save lives immediately is to legalize the establishment of Overdose Prevention Centers. The Grayken Center for Addiction at Boston Medical Center stands with Senator Markey on the need for the federal government to take action now to prevent unnecessary deaths,” said Miriam Komaromy, MD, FACP, DFASAM, Medical Director of the Grayken Center for Addiction at Boston Medical Center.

Last week, Senator Markey led his colleagues in a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland and Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) Administrator Anne Milgram urging the Biden administration to permanently expand COVID-19 flexibilities in telehealth services for patients in need of prescribed buprenorphine, an OUD treatment medication. In March, Senators Markey and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Representatives Bacon and Donald Norcross (NJ- 01) introduced the Modernizing Opioid Treatment Access Act to expand access to opioid treatment medication by allowing board-certified physicians to prescribe methadone to OUD patients and by allowing U.S. pharmacies to dispense methadone. Senators Markey, Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-La.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) also introduced the Due Process Continuity of Care Act to ensure that people who are incarcerated before trial do not lose Medicaid coverage.

Last December, Senator Markey secured language from his Opioid Treatment Access Act (OTAA) in the end-of-year omnibus spending package, which will reduce patient wait times for methadone medication treatment and expand access to methadone clinics. In July 2021, he introduced the Safer Prescribing of Controlled Substances Act, legislation that would require providers who prescribe opioid medication to complete additional education on responsible prescription practices and substance-use disorder treatment, and the Lessening Addiction by Enhancing Labeling (LABEL) Opioids Act, legislation to ensure prescription opioid medicines have consistent, clear, and concise warning labels for patients—a call FDA recently heeded by announcing new requirements for labels on opioid pain medicines.