Tackling the Opioid Epidemic

June 15, 2018
by Congressman Bruce Westerman

There is a good chance you know someone who has been impacted by the opioid crisis. All of us likely know someone whose life has been turned upside down by this epidemic. It is in our small towns, our rural communities, our cities, and everywhere between. It knows no boundaries and it doesn’t discriminate.

In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control said 401 Arkansans died as a result of opioids[1]. According to Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge’s office, 236 million doses of opioids were prescribed that year, enough for each Arkansan to have 78 doses[2].

But it isn’t just pills distributed through pharmaceutical means causing pain and heartache. Heroin laced with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid, has also had deadly consequences. During a recent trip to the U.S.-Mexico border, I saw firsthand how opioids are illegally smuggled into the United States. In the first seven months of this fiscal year, Customs and Border Patrol agents seized 984 pounds of fentanyl[3]. While it may not seem like much, it is enough to provide lethal doses to more than half the U.S. population.

Looking at the numbers, it is no wonder why our country is in the grip of an opioid crisis. Drugs have been easily available, turning law abiding citizens into addicts. All some people did was take prescribed medication to treat back pain or another chronic condition. That is why the House of Representatives took action this week and will continue efforts to combat this epidemic. In the last week, we passed more than 30 bills aimed at addressing this problem. While legislation cannot solve the entire problem, it is a step in the right direction.

The bills passed in the House take four critical steps to address the crisis[4]:

  1. Treatment and Recovery – Our actions focus on perhaps the most important aspect of the opioid crisis. Without treatment, there can be no recovery for those afflicted with the disease of addiction. Our bills improve and expand access to treatment and recovery services and provide incentives for enhanced care, coordination, and innovation. At the same time, our legislation would establish comprehensive opioid recovery centers.
  2. Prevention – In order to stop addiction, it is important to limit access to these opioids. Rich and poor, people with and without education, parents, and children have all been impacted. Bills passed in the House encourage non-addictive opioid alternatives to treat pain. They would also improve data to identify and assist at-risk individuals while addressing over prescription rates.
  3. Protecting Communities – To get dangerous drugs off the streets, law enforcement must have a variety of tools at their disposal. Legislation would give them tools to better intercept illicit opioids at international mail facilities while improving access to federal resources for local communities.
  4. Fighting Fentanyl – As I noted above, fentanyl is a deadly drug with deadly consequences. Legislation would better tackle ever-changing synthetic drugs and crack down on foreign shipments of illicit drugs. Additionally, communities could apply for grants to combat the drug in their communities.

Arkansas and the rest of the country have a long way to go, but we are shining a light in the darkness and addressing this problem plaguing America. It will take everyone working together to help those already addicted and to prevent future opioid addictions. While difficult, I believe it is a challenge we can meet.