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Markey: Border Wall a ‘Distraction’ from Opioid Crisis

WASHINGTON – Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said building a border wall on the U.S.-Mexico border is a “distraction” from the opioid crisis, arguing that money allotted for the project would be better spent on opioid treatment.

President Trump has said a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border would help combat the flow of illegal drugs such as heroin into the United States.

“A Trump administration will secure and defend our borders. And yes, we will build a wall,” Trump said during the presidential campaign in a speech about the opioid epidemic. “A wall will not only keep out dangerous cartels and criminals, but it will also keep out the drugs and heroin poisoning our youth.”

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “research suggests that misuse of these drugs may open the door to heroin use. Nearly 80 percent of Americans using heroin (including those in treatment) reported misusing prescription opioids prior to using heroin.”

PJM asked Markey if he agreed with Trump’s view that a border wall would serve as an effective tool to stop drug trafficking and the opioid epidemic.

“The wall is a distraction. We don’t need a wall. We need treatment. We don’t need to find $30 billion to build a wall. We need to release $500 million to states to institute prevention, treatment and recovery programs. It would be great if we could commit $30 billion to treatment programs, to programs that really do go to the heart of the program,” Markey said during a conference call on Tuesday about Dr. Scott Gottlieb, Trump’s nominee to lead the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

“But I think the president is going to continue to go down that track and I don’t think it’s incidental that he wants to have that $30 billion while simultaneously cutting the [Health and Human Services] budget by 18 percent. You need to pay for that wall, and unfortunately that payment is going to come of the programs we really do need,” he added.

Markey argued that Gottlieb could not effectively address the opioid crisis due to his ties with the pharmaceutical industry. Gottlieb was deputy FDA commissioner under President George W. Bush’s administration and has worked as a consultant for Bristol-Myers Squibb and GlaxoSmithKline.

Markey said Gottlieb believes drug safety does not need “strong” oversight.

“We are suffering this public health epidemic because big pharma pushed pills they knew were dangerous and addictive, the FDA approved them, often without expert counsel, and doctors, because they do not have mandatory education on these drugs, prescribed them,” he said. “It is a vicious and deadly cycle that has turned this nation into the United States of Oxy and it must stop.”

Markey said Dr. Gottlieb’s “big pharma formula is simple: take away DEA oversight over prescription opioids and give that authority to the FDA, then at the same time limit the FDA’s ability to utilize its full oversight authority over these addictive products.”