Opioid Epidemic

“The opioid epidemic is a public health crisis and must be treated as such with partnership of every level of government and public health resources.”

Every county in Maryland has a significant opioid problem. It is still growing across the country and became more severe during the COVID-19 pandemic as social isolation contributed to spikes in anxiety, depression, substance abuse, domestic violence and suicide. Maryland ranks among the top five states in terms of opioid-related overdose deaths, with particularly high rates of heroin-related deaths. There is no simple answer. We need to have public health services available — but it is much more. This problem did not appear overnight; defeating it will require continued engagement and collaboration with federal, state, and community partners.

In September 2018, I was pleased to help pass the bipartisan Opioid Crisis Response Act that took the first steps in addressing the epidemic. I successfully fought to include language to expand the use of telehealth services for the treatment of substance use disorder under Medicare, to provide for coverage of medication-assistant treatment (MAT) under Medicare, and to study promising state strategies to support individuals who struggle with substance use. Specifically, my bills will result in reports to Congress on successful state Medicaid peer support programs and housing-related services for individuals struggling with both homelessness and substance use disorders.

In addition to public health strategies, we must support law enforcement in cracking down on people who are creating and distributing illegal drugs. I have strongly supported the coordinated initiatives of the Washington/Baltimore High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA), which includes numerous cities and counties in Maryland. I collaborated with members of the Maryland Congressional delegation to obtain federal funding to support state law enforcement agencies in combatting the illegal manufacturing and distribution of methamphetamine, heroin, and prescription opioids. In previous spending bills, I have also secured federal funding for the state to address the problem. Ending this devastating epidemic will remain one of my priorities in the Senate.