COLUMN: Linking Arms to Combat National Substance Abuse

May 16, 2016
Weekly Column and Op-Ed

Our nation is facing a national epidemic. While many may know that substance abuse is a major crisis in our country, few may understand the exact scope. Drug abuse devastates communities, tears apart families and destroys lives. Tragically, 47,000 Americans now lose their lives each year due to drug overdoses—a total that is higher than the fatalities in car accidents, which were formerly the number one cause of accidental deaths. More than 18,000 of drug related deaths are caused by overdoses on “opioids,” which are a class of drugs commonly used to relieve pain, and many are highly addictive. Each one of those numbers represents a son, daughter, parent, friend or neighbor lost. In response, Republicans and Democrats in Congress are taking bipartisan action on solutions to combat this crisis afflicting homes and communities nationwide.

Recently, the Kaiser Family Foundation released a report that found more than four in ten Americans know someone who has been addicted to prescription painkillers. The report also found that one in five Americans know a family member who has been addicted.

According to the American Society of Addition Medicine, “of the 21.5 million Americans 12 or older that had a substance use disorder in 2014, 1.9 million had a substance use disorder involving prescription pain relievers and 586,000 had a substance use disorder involving heroin.”

According to a recent report by the University of Washington, “opioid use, morbidity, and mortality have increased nationally and across Washington State.” While Washington has taken action at the state level to reduce opioid abuse, this national crisis demands a national response.

A national strategy to combat the substance abuse crisis requires a multi-pronged approach to improve law enforcement’s response, increase resources that give opportunity to those struggling with addiction, and to update best practices for pain management and prescribing pain medication.

Last week, I supported passage of the Comprehensive Opioid Abuse Reduction Act and a package of 17 bipartisan bills to address the national opioid abuse crisis. The Comprehensive Opioid Abuse Reduction Act combats the opioid epidemic by establishing a streamlined, comprehensive opioid abuse grant program that encompasses a variety of new and existing programs, such as vital training and resources for first responders and law enforcement, criminal investigations for the unlawful distribution of opioids, drug courts, and residential substance abuse treatment. The bill authorizes $103 million annually for the grant program and is fully offset to keep federal spending at current levels.

On behalf of families and communities, I support these solutions for law enforcement and for substance abuse treatment. The cost to our society has been too great, and families and communities must come together to heal.