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Congressman McGovern Applauds Bipartisan Action to Address Opioid Crisis

Calls for Stronger Funding to Support National Effort

On the House floor today, Congressman Jim McGovern spoke in support of bipartisan legislation to tackle the opioid epidemic hurting so many communities in Western and Central Massachusetts.

The bills debated today were H.R. 5046, the Comprehensive Opioid Abuse Reduction (COARA) Act, and H.R. 4641, a bill to provide for the establishment of an inter-agency task force to review, modify, and update best practices for pain management and prescribing pain medication, and for other purposes.
 
OPIOID EPIDEMIC IS AN ‘EMERGENCY’
 
“We need to provide funding to our communities struggling to deal with the opioid and heroin crisis. This is an emergency. That’s how you have to classify this and look at this. This is an emergency. People are dying,” Congressman McGovern said. “Without providing the additional resources needed, we will not be part of the solution.
 
“So I think that we need to understand that this crisis has risen to the level of an emergency. We need to do what’s right. We need to not only pass these bills, but we need to commit in a bipartisan way that we’re going to provide the necessary funding and I hope we can do that. If we don’t do that – all the speeches that we give this week will amount to empty rhetoric. We need to make sure we fund these priorities.”
 
ACTION IN MASSACHUSETTS
 

McGovern praised local efforts led by the Central Massachusetts Opioid Task Force and the Opioid Task Force serving Franklin County and the North Quabbin Region and thanked his fellow members of the Massachusetts Congressional Delegation – Representatives Joe Kennedy (MA-04), Katherine Clark (MA-05), Seth Moulton (MA-06), Bill Keating (MA-09), and Stephen Lynch (MA-08).
 
“In New England, we know all too well the terrible toll of the opioid epidemic. Having seen the damage it has done to the communities that I represent in Central and Western Massachusetts, tackling the opioid epidemic has long been a top priority for me,” McGovern added.
 
“Instead of giving in to despair, communities in Massachusetts and across the country are responding to the opioid epidemic with strength and with courage. They are helping to lead grassroots, state and national coalitions to raise awareness and educate people about the crisis and provide resources to help those ensnared by the addiction.
 
“The Central Massachusetts Opioid Task Force, chaired by Worcester County District Attorney Joe Early, is a great example of this. They are working to bring greater awareness of the problem to residents. Members of the task force attend many of the coalition forums and also go into schools to talk to students.
 
“The Opioid Task Force serving Franklin County and the North Quabbin Region in Massachusetts is another example. It’s co-chaired by John Merrigan, Franklin County Register of Probate; Chris Donelan, Franklin County Sheriff; and David Sullivan, Northwestern District Attorney.
 
“I am so thankful for these and other task forces and coalitions in Massachusetts and across the country for coming together quickly to address this public health crisis and for their tenacity in fighting for individuals and families struggling with addiction.”
 
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Full Text of Congressman McGovern’s Remarks:
 

“I rise to speak on the rule for consideration of H.R. 5046, the Comprehensive Opioid Abuse Reduction (COARA) Act, and H.R. 4641, a bill to provide for the establishment of an inter-agency task force to review, modify, and update best practices for pain management and prescribing pain medication, and for other purposes.
 
“By the end of this week, the House will have taken up a total of 17 bipartisan ‘opioid-related’ bills, each a critical measure to help us tackle the opioid crisis in a variety of ways as we work to end this scourge hurting so many communities across our country and costing the lives of so many all across this country.
 
“I am pleased that the House will be considering this critical bipartisan legislation this week, but in all honesty, I am also very concerned that Republicans are not proposing the new funding that is necessary to meaningfully address the opioid crisis. So in addition to passing the bipartisan legislation on the Floor this week, which authorizes a new grant program, we must also provide real new resources in the form of appropriations to ensure that the initiatives in this legislation can be fully implemented.  If we don’t do that – all the speeches that we give this week will amount to empty rhetoric. We need to make sure we fund these priorities. This is an emergency.
 
“Opioid addiction is inflicting a savage daily toll in neighborhoods across America. According to the CDC, 78 Americans die from an opioid overdose every day – and many of them are young people. In 2013, the number of heroin users was 681,000, an increase of more than 250,000 users since 2002. This crisis is affecting every region across the country and every demographic group.
 
“I have long said that Congress must provide the meaningful resources that are needed to make a difference and save lives and today I am pleased that the we are coming together and taking action to attempt to do just that. These are important first steps.
 
“In New England, we know all too well the terrible toll of the opioid epidemic. Having seen the damage it has done to the communities that I represent in Central and Western Massachusetts, tackling the opioid epidemic has long been a top priority for me.
 
“Across Massachusetts the number of opioid overdose deaths climbed by nearly 10 percent – up from 1,282 in 2014 to 1,379 in 2015. Once all cases are finalized by the medical officials in Massachusetts, it’s estimated that there will be an additional 63 to 85 deaths for 2014 and 118 to 179 deaths in 2015.
 
“In Worcester County alone, home of the second-largest city in New England, opioid-related deaths jumped from 163 in 2014 to 177 in 2015. Looking back at the last 16 years, we can see an even bigger increase. In 2000, there were 59 opioid-related overdose deaths in Worcester County – a small fraction of the 1,289 deaths in 2015.
 
“Most of last year’s victims were between the ages of 25 and 44, in the prime of their lives with so much to live for. Many left behind families heartbroken and devastated by these senseless deaths. These families include husbands, wives, children, and so many more who loved them and desperately wanted them to get the help they needed and live.
 
“The opioid epidemic is even harder to cope with for those who have seen young people lose their lives to addiction. In Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, one high school principal said that in the 11 years he has been principal, he has known of 33 students who have been active heroin addicts. Seven of them died and at a recent forum, he learned that there had been even more that he had not known about.
 
“Part of the problem is the stigma associated with heroin use. I think a lot of us think we know what heroin use and addiction look like, but the reality is it can take hold of anyone, including our neighbors, our friends, and even our own family members.
 
“However, instead of giving in to despair, communities in Massachusetts and across the country are responding to the opioid epidemic with strength and with courage. They are helping to lead grassroots, state and national coalitions to raise awareness and educate people about the crisis and provide resources to help those ensnared by the addiction.
 
“The Central Massachusetts Opioid Task Force, chaired by Worcester County District Attorney Joe Early, is a great example of this. They are working to bring greater awareness of the problem to residents. Members of the task force attend many of the coalition forums and also go into schools to talk to students.
 
“The Opioid Task Force serving Franklin County and the North Quabbin Region in Massachusetts is another example. It’s co-chaired by John Merrigan, Franklin County Register of Probate; Chris Donelan, Franklin County Sheriff; and David Sullivan, Northwestern District Attorney.
 
“I am so thankful for these and other task forces and coalitions in Massachusetts and across the country for coming together quickly to address this public health crisis and for their tenacity in fighting for individuals and families struggling with addiction.
 
“Just this week, I had the opportunity to join community leaders at North Brookfield High School in Central Massachusetts for an event with Chris Herren, a former constituent of mine from Fall River and a former Boston Celtics player who now travels to schools in New England and across the country to speak about his own recovery from addiction and the need for young people to stay drug-free.
 
“I am also grateful to my fellow members of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation for being strong partners in this fight. Joe Kennedy is a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee and has been a leader on this issue – he’s the lead Democratic sponsor of HR 4641. And a number of amendments sponsored by Massachusetts members were made in order last night, including several from Katherine Clark as well as amendments from Seth Moulton, Bill Keating, and Stephen Lynch.
 
“I also want to commend the leadership of Congresswoman Annie Custer from New Hampshire. She has been out front on this issue for a long, long time and we appreciate her leadership.
 
“The simple truth is that we’re not going to arrest our way out of this problem. Prevention and treatment must be at the heart of our approach to tackling this epidemic. As part of the comprehensive approach called for, we must equip our young people with the skills necessary to identify constructive ways to deal with problems so that turning to drugs is never an option.
 
“We must make every effort to ensure that treatment is available to those who seek it. Because it takes courage and strength to admit that you need help. I am pleased that the legislation we are considering this week will do just that.
 
“I strongly support the legislation this rule makes in order. H.R. 5046, the Comprehensive Opioid Abuse Reduction Act, would establish the Comprehensive Opioid Abuse Grant Program. With $103 million provided annually over 5 years, this program would help provide vital assistance to state and local agencies to fund treatment alternatives to incarceration, opioid abuse prevention, training, and education. 
 
“The program’s grants could be used to train first responders in carrying and administering opioid overdose reversal drugs, support prescription drug monitoring programs, and strengthen collaborations between criminal justice agencies and substance abuse systems, or for programs targeted toward juvenile opioid abuse programs.
     
“This legislation is a commonsense bipartisan step that goes a long way to provide the critical help that Americans across this country need to combat our opioid epidemic. 
 
“I also support of H.R. 4641, a bill to provide for the establishment of an inter-agency task force to review, modify, and update best practices for pain management and prescribing pain medication, and for other purposes. Creating this task force is another key step to help strengthen our national response to the opioid crisis and increase inter-agency collaboration as we marshal all of our resources in this fight.
 
“I want to thank my colleagues on both sides of the aisle who worked very hard to bring additional bipartisan legislation to the floor this week to tackle the opioid crisis. These bills would take important steps to cut the risk of opioid addiction among veterans managing chronic pain, take on international drug traffickers, improve the treatment and care of babies who are born addicted to opioids, help reduce opioid use among young people, and strengthen access to opioid overdose reversal medication.
 
“There are many issues that Democrats and Republicans do not see eye to eye on, but I am pleased that both parties are coming together, at least on this first step, to tackle  the opioid crisis. For families and communities across the country who have already lost so much and so many to this epidemic, there has never been a more important time for us to take action.
 
“I want to thank the leaders of both parties for helping to bring these important bipartisan bills to the House floor. I do believe we can end the opioid crisis once and for all.
 
“But again – let me stress – we need to provide funding to our communities struggling to deal with the opioid and heroin crises. This is an emergency. That’s how you have to classify this and look at this. This is an emergency. People are dying. Without providing the additional resources needed, we will not be part of the solution.
 
“So the ideas that we have compiled today and are debating this week are all good ideas, but they won’t be real ideas unless they are funded. And I worry that this Congress might not be up to the challenge.
 
We have emergencies in Flint, Michigan with the water crisis. And we have not done what we needed to do to provide emergency funding for that community. We have a growing emergency with the Zika virus and we can’t get an emergency appropriations bill to the floor.
 
“So I think that we need to understand that this crisis has risen to the level of an emergency. We need to do what’s right. We need to not only pass these bills, but we need to commit in a bipartisan way that we’re going to provide the necessary funding and I hope we can do that.
 
“With that, I reserve the balance of my time.”