Press Release

Welch Joins Legislation to Address Substance Use Crisis, Prevent Deadly Opioid Overdoses

Jun 14, 2023

WASHINGTON—Senator Peter Welch (D-VT) joined Senators Ed Markey (D-MA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Tom Carper (D-DE) to support the Stop Fentanyl Overdoses Act last month, legislation to advance a public health-oriented approach to the substance use crisis by expanding testing for fentanyl and related substances, promoting information sharing and data collection across public health departments and public safety officials, and advancing other public health initiatives to address the substance use crisis. The bill follows recent reports from the State of Vermont that fatal overdoses involving opioids have reached their highest point since the state began tracking them more than a decade ago. 

“Every Vermonter has been affected by the substance use crisis—whether they or a loved one have struggled or if they’ve simply seen the impact of the crisis on our communities,” said Sen. Welch. “With overdoses at an all-time high in Vermont, it’s clear that we need new tools and a public health-based approach to address this crisis and keep Vermonters safe.  I’m proud to join my colleagues to introduce this critical legislation and help folks working on the frontlines of this crisis save lives.”  

“A single life lost to the opioid epidemic is one life too many. The drug overdose crisis is devastating communities across the country. It knows no bounds—crossing state lines and harming Americans no matter their identity or ideology. And we are losing the fight. Tens of thousands of lives taken in a single year is an absolute and avoidable tragedy,” said Senator Markey. “The opioid epidemic is a product of Big Pharma’s greed, and in the past decade, it has only gotten worse. Congress has an obligation to meet this crisis head on by ensuring we have all the tools available to understand current trends in the opioid epidemic and empower public health professionals to provide people the care they need.” 

Fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid, and xylazine, a non-opioid sedative also known as tranq, have been increasingly detected in fatal overdoses in Vermont and across the United States. The two drugs are potent and, in the case of xylazine, may blunt the efficacy of the overdose reversal medication naloxone, leading to a greater risk of fatal overdose. Public health officials, law enforcement, and groups working on the front lines to end this crisis need better data, better access to overdose reversal medication, and increased federal support to address the current crisis.  

This bill would take concrete steps to address the substance use crisis and change our national approach by: 

  1. Expanding testing for fentanyl and related substances and increasing information sharing by public health departments and law enforcement for the purpose of identifying public health threats and preventing overdoses; 
  2. Providing grant funding to compile overdose data through the CDC and facilitate surveillance of seized heroin, fentanyl, and associated synthetic drugs by forensic laboratories; 
  3. Improving accessibility to overdose reversal medications and ensuring they are more available across the country; 
  4. Limiting civil and criminal liability under specified laws for individuals who administer opioid overdose reversal medication to an individual who reasonably appears to be experiencing an overdose; 
  5. Establishing a program to offer medication treatment for opioid use disorder (OUD) to individuals who are incarcerated; 
  6. Providing grant funding to states and local government entities to educate health care providers, criminal justice professionals, and substance use disorder treatment personnel on the current state of research on treatment for opioid dependence; and 
  7. Requiring reporting that will help to enhance surveillance, prevention, and treatment efforts, including a report on naloxone access and affordability, international mail and cargo screening, and overdose prevention centers.     

The Stop Fentanyl Overdoses Act is supported by the Drug Policy Alliance, the American Psychological Association, the Grayken Center for Addiction at Boston Medical Center, Partnership to End Addiction, the Association for Multidisciplinary Education and Research in Substance Use and Addiction (AMERSA), Massachusetts Medical Society, and the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association.