Fighting the Opioid Epidemic

Opioid addiction is a public health crisis that demands attention and resources from every level of government. Drug overdose deaths have reached an unprecedented high nationwide with more than two thirds of overdose deaths involving a form of opioid, including heroin, prescription opioids, and synthetic opioids like fentanyl. The number of opioid-related deaths in 2017 reached six times the number of such deaths in 1999. Maryland ranks among the top five states in terms of opioid-related overdose deaths, with particularly high rates of heroin-related deaths. This problem did not appear overnight and 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.