McConnell, Mass. Democrats find common ground on opioid-overdose epidemic; Kentucky ranks 3rd in overdose deaths

Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell and two Massachusetts Democrats have found common ground in efforts to fight the opioid-overdose crisis and are working across the aisle to push for legislation and information to address it, Asma Khalid reports for WBUR, a Boston NPR affiliate.

Sens. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.,
agree on fighting the opoid overdose epidemic. (AP photos)

“McConnell and I are requesting that there be a surgeon general report on the opioid overdose epidemic in the United States,” Sen. Ed Markey told Khalid. Markey is also co-sponsoring a bill with Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., to expand the use of medication-assisted treatment, like Suboxone.

Kentucky has the third highest overdose death rate in the nation, with more than 1,000 people dying each year, according to the state attorney general’s website. Massachusetts has the 32nd highest overdose death rate in the nation, according to Trust for America’s Health. Most of these opioid deaths in both states are from prescription drugs.

“The reason I can do that with two senators from Kentucky, who are Republicans, is that there really is no difference between Lexington, Massachusetts, and Lexington, Kentucky,” Markey said. “We have an epidemic in both states, and we have to ensure that we put together a national plan.”

McConnell has also partnered with Rep. Katerine Clark, D-Mass,, on a bill that focuses on infants and neonatal abstinence syndrome. “Mitch McConnell and I may disagree on 98 percent of topics, but we agree on this,” Clark told Khalid.

Drug-dependent newborns in Kentucky increased by 48 percent last year, to 1,409 from 955 in 2013, which was up from only 28 in 2000, Laura Ungar reported for The Courier-Journal last week. “Research in the Journal of Perinatology shows opioid addiction in babies grew nearly five-fold between 2000 and 2012,” Khalid notes.

The McConnell-Clark proposal “tries to pull the best practices from around the country to improve treatment and prevention for sick babies. The bill has 80 cosponsors so far, and they’re from both sides of the aisle,” Khalid reports, with no opposition voiced at the House Committee Energy and Commerce last week.

Another Massachusetts Democrat on the committee said he supports the effort, but the key is money — something McConnell has been stingy with, supporting automatic cuts to reduce the federal budget deficit.

“The big push that I’ve been trying to focus on in our hearings is this comes back to the lack of resources — lack of doctors, lack of treatment facilities, lack of beds, lack of continuum of care,” said Rep. Joe Kennedy III, D-Mass., “because our federal government has systematically underfunded resources for prevention and treatment.”

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