Opioid and Heroin Crisis

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Our country is facing a nationwide epidemic of prescription drug, heroin and opioid abuse causing drastic increases in addiction rates, overdose deaths, and incarceration. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the amount of prescription painkillers dispensed in the U.S. has quadrupled since 1999 – even though there has not been an overall change in the amount of pain that Americans report over the past several years. The CDC reports that nearly two million Americans, aged 12 or older, either abused or were dependent on opioids in 2013.

The scourge of opioid abuse and addiction is widespread throughout the nation with rural, suburban, and urban communities all feeling the impacts. This epidemic knows no race, gender, or economic boundaries as families and friends cope with loved ones struggling to overcome addiction. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the Third District are no stranger to this debilitating disease. According to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, between January and September 2015, there were 791 confirmed unintentional or underdetermined opioid-related deaths.

In my hometown of Lowell alone, there were forty-six fatal opioid overdoses in 2015. And according to a 2015 report by Governor Charlie Baker’s Opioid Working Group, more than 6,600 individuals in Massachusetts have died as a result of opioid abuse since 2004.


I believe the federal government must act to support communities grappling with this epidemic.  I have met with families who have lost loved ones or are supporting loved ones battling addiction, law enforcement officials, our district attorneys, public health and nonprofit organizations offering treatment services, and other stakeholders who are all focused on reversing the disturbing trends.  These conversations have led me to weigh in with the Administration, to introduce legislation, and to cosponsor bills that I think will help us better support those battling addiction and provide the needed resources to our cities and towns grappling with the effects of this epidemic.  It’s also why I joined the Congressional Bipartisan Taskforce to Combat the Heroin Epidemic, co-chaired by Rep. Frank Guinta (R-NH) and Rep. Ann Kuster (D-NH). 

Introduced Legislation

H.R. 4076 – The Reforming and Expanding Access to Treatment (TREAT) Act

In November 2015, I introduced bipartisan legislation with Congressman Mike Turner (R-OH) and Congresswoman Marcia Fudge (D-OH), The Reforming and Expanding Access to Treatment (TREAT) Act. This legislation would increase flexibility in how existing federal funding can be used to combat the heroin epidemic for those who are incarcerated. Read more here.

Cosponsored Legislation

H.R. 953 – Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act
I was an early cosponsor of bipartisan legislation, H.R. 953, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA). Among many provisions, this legislation authorizes additional prevention and education efforts, expands the availability of naloxone to first responders, authorizes additional resources to treat incarcerated individuals, includes efforts to assist in the disposal of unwanted prescription medications, strengthens prescription drug monitoring programs, and looks to start evidence-based opioid and heroin treatment and intervention programs. The Senate version of this legislation passed the Senate 94-1 on March 20, 2016.

H.R. 1462 – Protecting Our Infants Act
This legislation, introduced by Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA), will help hospitals diagnose and treat newborns suffering from opiate exposure. This legislation was signed into law by President Obama in November 2015. Read more here.

H.R. 2850 – Stop Overdose Act
The Stop Overdose Act would establish a grant program that funds efforts to educate and train the public, first responders, and caregivers on how to administer naloxone. The legislation would also provide financial assistance for the purchase and distribution of naloxone.

H.R. 4447 – Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act

Introduced by Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT), this legislation would authorize $600 million in emergency funding for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) to fund a range of programs aimed at treating the public health emergency brought on by drug addiction, as well as funding law enforcement efforts to end the illegal drug trade. The legislation makes grants available to states to assist in the coordination and improvement of already-existing substance abuse prevention and treatment programs.

H.R. 4599 – Reducing Unused Medications Act

This legislation, introduced in the House by Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA) and in the Senate by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) would allow prescriptions for opioid medications to be partially filled by pharmacists at the request of patients or doctors. This legislation was passed by the House in May. Read more here.

Legislation Considered by House

In May, 2016, the House of Representatives voted on several pieces of legislation that seek to address the nation’s growing opiate crisis. I supported each of these bills, including one to create a Pain Management Best Practices Inter-Agency Task Force to review, modify and update medical best practices for pain management and prescribing pain medication. The task force would include federal government officials, state medical boards, various health care groups and actual patients. I also supported legislation which would create two new grant programs at the Department of Justice, one specifically to assist veterans, and another for state, local and tribal governments.

While these bills were a positive step forward, we also need new resources that can support meaningful change, help people get treatment whether incarcerated or on the street, and stop the rising death toll from overdoses. I am supportive of President Obama’s proposal for $1.1 billion in new funding to address the epidemic and have been urging my colleagues to seriously consider the President’s proposal.

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decision on OxyContin for Children

I am extremely concerned with the Food and Drug Administration’sdecision to issue new labeling guidelines for the use of the powerful opioid prescription painkiller OxyContin by children as young as 11. While I understand that FDA’s goal was to give doctors better guidelines on how to use OxyContin safely in pediatric patients, I believe that the flawed methodology used to arrive at this decision, as well as FDA’s actual guidance, may actually encourage the expanded use of opioids among a population who are at an even greater risk of addiction.

Based on these concerns, in December 2015, I sent a letter to the FDA requesting that it reconsider the decision and instead allow an Advisory Committee to gather public input and expert testimony before making an official recommendation.  Fourteen other members of Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, signed onto my letter. 

Read a copy of this letter here.

Based on the response my office received from the FDA, I sent a follow-up letter asking for greater transparency from the FDA on how manufacturers collect and disclose data regarding OxyContin prescriptions to children.

Read a copy of this letter here.

Staying Engaged In Our Community

Middlesex Opioid Task Force

In July 2015, the Middlesex Opioid Task Force held its inaugural meeting and has strived to combat the increase in drug overdoses in Middlesex County. In these meetings, regional partners including law enforcement, public health officials, social & human services, and local elected officials share information and best practices on how they are handling the opioid crisis and discuss how they can work together. My office has been a regular attendee of these task force meetings in order to stay up-to-date on local efforts and be a strategic federal partner.

Lowell House

In November 2015, I visited the Lowell House, a local treatment center in Lowell.. Here, I had the opportunity to speak with residents there of all ages, ranging from age 18 to age 73, and learn more about their experiences as well as how our work could better support them. The Lowell House has a 70% success rate for residents in remaining sober after entering treatment. Learn more about my visit here.

I also recently received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Lowell House in recognition of my efforts to address the opioid crisis.Read more here.

More information about the Lowell House can be found here:http://lowellhouseinc.org/

Bringing Third District Input Directly to the White House

- 2016 National Drug Control Strategy                                                                                                            

Each year, the President’s Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) releases the National Drug Control Strategy to set a course for efforts to reduce illicit drug use and its consequences.  In order to ensure the experiences of those working to combat this epidemic in our region were considered in this national strategy, I sent a letter to the Director of the ONDCP urging the federal government to use information and recommendations from stakeholders in Massachusetts as they develop a national approach to combating the opioid crisis. 

Read a copy of this letter here.

View previous National Drug Control Strategies here.

White House Action on the Opioid Epidemic

For up to date information on the White House’s efforts to combat the epidemic, visit: https://www.whitehouse.gov/ondcp

Below are some efforts taken by the White House to address the opioid epidemic.

Obama Administration Announces Additional Actions to Address the Prescription Opioid Abuse and Heroin Epidemic
Mar. 29, 2016

President Obama Proposes $1.1 Billion in New Funding to Address the Prescription Opioid Abuse and Heroin Use Epidemic
Feb. 2, 2016

White House Announces Community Forums on Opioid Epidemic
Dec. 10, 2015

Obama Administration Announces Public and Private Sector Efforts to Address Prescription Drug Abuse and Heroin Use
Oct. 21, 2015



Below please find a small sample of media clips that discuss the opioids issue in detail, as well as Congresswoman Tsongas' work to combat the opioid epidemic.

Fox25: Congresswoman praises Lowell addiction recovery home
June 1, 2016


Lowell Sun: Stories of strength mark Lowell House celebration
April 4, 2016


MetroWest Daily News: Tsongas wants expansion of prison drug-treatment programs
Nov. 19, 2015


Lowell Sun: Getting addicts the help they need goal of Tsongas’ legislation
Nov. 21, 2015


Cape Cod Times: From incarceration to treatment
Dec. 5, 2015



Eagle Tribune: Moulton, Tsongas among Congress members urging FDA to reconsider OxyContin
Dec. 22, 2015



WGBH: FDA Approval of OxyContin for Kids Raises Bay State Addiction Concerns
Dec. 24, 2015



If you have questions or need assistance, please do not hesitate to contact my office. You can call: 202-225-3411. And if this is an emergency, call 911.

Below please find several organizations and websites that provide information and assistance on opioids-related matters.



Massachusetts Substance Abuse Information and Education Helpline

(800) 327-5050



Al-Anon and Alateen Family Groups of Massachusetts

(508) 366-0556




Veterans Addiction

Montachusett Veteran’s Outreach Center


(978) 632-9601  



Veterans Center for Addiction

(781) 687-2275




Merrimack Valley (Lowell/Lawrence/Haverhill area)

Greater Lowell Health Alliance


(978) 934-8368



Lahey Health Behavioral Services

Lowell, Haverhill, and Lawrence areas

(978) 455-3397



Lowell Community Health Center


(978) 441-1700



Megan’s House


(978) 455-6973



Lowell House Inc.

Based in Lowell, serves all communities in the Merrimack Valley

(978) 459-8656



The Psychological Center


(978) 685-1337


Serenity at Summit


(844) 571-1858



Greater Lawrence Family Health Center

Haverhill, Lawrence, and Methuen areas

(978) 686-0090



Spectrum Health Systems

Outpatient Services: (800) 464-9555 x1161
Inpatient Services: (800) 366-7732

Haverhill, Lawrence, Marlborough



Team Coordinating Agency, Inc.


(978) 373-1181 



South Bay Community Services

Lawrence and Lowell

(508) 521-2200



Holy Family Hospital

Haverhill and Methuen

(978) 374-2000




MetroWest/North Central (Marlborough/Fitchburg/Gardner)

Community Healthlink

Fitchburg, Clinton, Worcester, and Leominster

(508) 860-1200



New England Recovery Center


(855) 772-1188



Emerson Hospital Addiction Services


(978) 287-3510





(978) 632-0934



McLean at Naukeag Residential Program


(800) 230-8764



New England Aftercare Ministries – Pathway House


(978) 632-4574



Ayer and Marlborough

(508) 628-6300



North Central Human Services


(978) 632-9400


LUK Crisis Center


(978) 345-0685



Spring Hill Recovery


(866) 682-9355



Multicultural Wellness Center


(978) 343-3336



Southern Middlesex Opportunity Council


(508) 480-0092



The Recovery Connection


(508) 485-0298



Fitchburg Comprehensive Treatment Center


(855) 220-6812



CRC Health

Lowell, Lawrence, and Fitchburg

(877) 786-5649



Addiction Referral Center


(508) 485-4357



Spectrum Health Systems

Outpatient Services: (800) 464-9555 x1161
Inpatient Services: (800) 366-7732

Haverhill, Lawrence, Marlborough