MassLive: Ed Markey, Katherine Clark call for more federal action to combat opioid crisis at national summit
April 3, 2018
By: Shannon Young

Massachusetts lawmakers urged Congress and the Trump administration Tuesday to take additional steps to end the opioid abuse epidemic, as well as called on federal officials to begin measuring the progress made thus far on the issue.

Although U.S. Sen. Ed Markey and U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark touted bills federal lawmakers have passed to expand access to addiction treatment and crack down on fentanyl trafficking, the Massachusetts Democrats told National RX Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit attendees that more must be done to reduce opioid-related deaths.

Markey, who previously addressed the summit in 2017, praised Republicans and Democrats for coming together on legislation that required a surgeon general's report on opioid abuse, made medication-assisted treatments more widely available and enhanced border agents' ability to detect drug smuggling.

He argued that such bipartisanship is needed if the United States is serious about ending the opioid crisis.

The senator, however, took issue with the Trump administration's approach to the issue, particularly the president's call to stop drug trafficking by building a wall along the United State's southern border with Mexico, temporary designation of opioid abuse as a "public health emergency" and plan to seek the death penalty against some drug dealers.

Contending that "more than 50,000 people have died from prescription drug, heroin and fentanyl overdoses since President (Donald) Trump took office," Markey called on the Republican to focus on ensuring providers receive proper prescribing education, dedicating more funding and resources to treatment and investing in "21st Century" border surveillance technologies.

"It's time for this and all future administrations to be held accountable for addressing the opioid crisis," he said.

Markey further told summit attendees he will offer legislation that represents "a national strategy to end the opioid epidemic in America."

The senator said the measure will require the federal government to set tangible benchmarks for how the U.S. addresses the opioid crisis. It also looks to measure progress on key objectives, like reducing overdose deaths, expanding treatment availability, increasing the number of people in sustained recovery and decreasing emergency room visits for overdoses.

"We need to start measuring our progress or we will continue to fight the same battle over and over again," he said.

Like Markey, Clark agreed that federal lawmakers "have much work to do" when it comes to combatting opioid abuse.

The Melrose Democrat said she's committed to pushing legislation that aims to reduce the number of opioid-related deaths, like the "YOUTH Act," which calls for expanding access to evidence-based, medication-assisted treatment for adolescents and young adults, and the "Prescriber Support Act," which would help doctors and nurses make decisions about prescribing opioids.

Clark added that she and Congressman Hal Rogers, R-Kentucky, have further offered a measure that would create a student loan repayment program for those in the substance use disorder treatment field.

"All of these proposals are just incremental steps. But, when we put another treatment professional to work in the field, or we effectively communicate safe prescribing guidelines to health care providers on the ground, those steps forward create future steps forward," she told summit attendees. "The only way we can fully address the crisis is by working together to find every creative, practical tool we can to chip away at it."

Contending that funding plays an important part in achieving that goal, Clark called on Congress to appropriate the money needed to crack down on opioid abuse.

Markey and Clark were among six congressional lawmakers who spoke at the summit held in Atlanta, Georgia.

The annual conference, which runs through April 5, brings together local, state and federal officials, as well as treatment providers, business leaders and educators to discuss and work on solutions to ending drug abuse.