Cantwell Provisions to Combat Opioid Epidemic Head to President’s Desk

Cantwell-led provisions would crack down on illegal drug distribution

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, provisions introduced by U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) to combat the opioid epidemic and hold drug manufacturers accountable for negligent and misleading distribution practices passed the U.S. Senate 98-1 and now head to President Trump for signature into law.

“As I’ve traveled through the state of Washington, law enforcement officers and local communities have told me we need new tools to fight this epidemic,” Senator Cantwell said. “That’s why I’ve worked with people from Port Angeles to Spokane, Southwest Washington to Everett, to try to provide the solutions that our law enforcement and communities want.”

The legislation passed by the Senate includes provisions from Senator Cantwell’s Comprehensive Addiction Reform, Education, and Safety (CARES) Act, introduced in February with Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) and supported by a bipartisan group of 39 state and territory Attorneys General, to increase penalties on opioid manufacturers who fail to take reasonable steps to prevent their drugs from entering the black market.

“We’re not doing a good enough job tracking the distribution of opioids, and we need to have stiffer fines and penalties for those who don’t do their job in tracking the distribution of these drugs,” Cantwell continued.

The legislation also contains several other priorities for Cantwell that would:

Crack Down on Illegal Drug Distribution:

  • Increases civil penalties on manufacturers and distributors of opioids that fail to report suspicious orders for opioids or fail to maintain effective controls against diversion of opioids by ten times, from $10,000 to $100,000;
  • Increases criminal penalties for failing to maintain effective controls against diversion of opioids from $250,000 to $500,000;
  • Authorizes grants to state law enforcement agencies to help locate and investigate illegal distribution of opioids, heroin, fentanyl, or carfentanil;
  • Authorizes $280 million for the High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Program (HIDTA), which provides assistance and coordination between federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies whose jurisdictions are in major drug-trafficking areas throughout the country.

Increase Funding and Resources for Opioid Treatment:

  • Provides permanent authority for qualified physicians to provide Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) for up to 275 patients;
  • Expands the ability of health providers to use telehealth services to treat people with opioid use disorder;
  • Authorizes $75 million for the Drug Court Program, which has helped reduce substance abuse and criminal recidivism among non-violent offenders;
  • Authorizes $46 million in grants to help prevent fatal overdoses and train first responders about safe practices for dealing with fentanyl and carfentanil to protect them from exposure to these deadly drugs and prevent fatal overdoses;
  • Allows Medicaid to cover more substance abuse treatment beds for up to 30 days, while preserving the ability of states to use existing Medicaid waivers to provide such coverage.

Support New Research and Treatment Alternatives:

  • Authorizes $5 million a year to support hospitals and other acute care facilities that manage pain with alternatives to opioids;
  • Requires the study of the impact of federal and state laws limiting the length, quantity, or dosage of prescription opioids;
  • Reauthorizes the State Targeted Response (STR) grants, originally funded in the 21st Century Cares Act, which have provided more than $43 million to Washington state for opioid treatment and prevention programs.

Throughout the United States, opioid sales nearly quadrupled between 1999 and 2014, and by 2012, 259 million opioid prescriptions were being written each year. The massive surge in opioid consumption has also led to increased usage of heroin, with studies showing that nearly 75% of new heroin users become addicted by using prescription opioids.

The resulting opioid and heroin epidemic has devastated communities across the country. Since 2000, more than 300,000 Americans have died from opioid or heroin overdoses. One hundred forty-five people fatally overdose on opioids or heroin each day, and nearly 700 Washingtonians and 42,000 Americans died of an opioids overdose in 2016 alone. The epidemic also has a significant economic impact, costing the United States at least $78 billion every year.

Last month, local law enforcement leaders, including King County Undersheriff Scott Somers, Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor, and Snohomish County Sheriff Ty Trenary, and public health officials highlighted the importance of the Senate’s legislation, and Cantwell’s provisions, in helping them fight back against the opioid epidemic in their communities.

“For those AGs and counties and cities who are filing lawsuits against distributors and entities related to the opioid epidemic to hold them accountable, the bill that Senator Cantwell proposed increases dramatically the penalties for those manufacturers when they know, or have reason to know, that there is suspicious activity going on,” said Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson. “Those penalties need to be increased, and Senator Cantwell is leading the charge in making that happen.”

“I’d like to acknowledge my gratitude to Senator Cantwell for her leadership on the Opioid Crisis Response Act, which takes a number of positive steps to support our public health response to the devastating impact that this opioid epidemic continues to have on people here in King County and across the country,” said Dr. Jeffrey Duchin, the Chief Health Officer for Public Health Seattle and King County.

The passage of this legislation comes as Senator Cantwell continues her leadership in the fight against the opioid crisis. In December of 2016, Senator Cantwell supported the 21st Century Cures Act, which provided over $1 billion in new federal funds to combat the opioid epidemic, including more than $23 million in funding for Washington state over two years. In February 2018, Cantwell introduced the CARES Act to hold opioid manufacturers accountable for misleading advertising and negligent distribution practices. Later that month, Cantwell joined a bipartisan group of colleagues to introduce CARA 2.0, a comprehensive bill to increase funding for programs providing opioid education, treatment, and recovery. Cantwell has also been a fierce defender of the Medicaid program and Washington state’s successful Medicaid expansion, which has opened up substance abuse treatment to more than 30,000 Washingtonians.

A full list of Senator Cantwell’s provisions and priorities included in the bill is available HERE.