Opioid crisis requires serious response

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 25, 2016

By Rep. Bradley Byrne

I recently saw a local news story about a young 18-year-old boy from Southwest Alabama who struggled with prescription drug abuse. He talked about how it started out small with just a few pain pills, but his addiction spiraled out of control until he was seriously ill.

Thankfully, this young man was able to seek treatment from a local drug abuse program, and now he is preparing to apply to college. Sadly, not every person who struggles with prescription drug abuse is so fortunate.

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Studies show that approximately 46,000 Americans die because of a drug overdose each year, and young Americans are disproportionately impacted. That adds up to over 130 deaths a day.

It is safe to say our nation is facing a serious epidemic when it comes to prescription drug abuse, and the real issue is with opioids. An opioid is a type of narcotic derived from the opium poppy, which includes drugs such as morphine, codeine, hydrocodone and oxycodone.

Opioids are also found in heroin, and many people who struggle with prescription drug abuse ultimately find themselves using heroin. This makes the epidemic even worse.

Overwhelmingly, the people who struggle with opioid addiction are not bad people or looking to break the law. The addiction often develops after someone is correctly prescribed pain medicine in response to an injury. In many of the stories I have heard, the addiction develops after a young athlete gets injured playing sports.

The opioid epidemic is real and it is serious. The epidemic doesn’t discriminate about who it affects. It has hit rural areas and urban cities. It impacts the young and the old. It doesn’t care about skin color. Americans from every walk of life have experienced this heartbreaking epidemic one way or another.

In the House of Representatives, we have made it a top priority to address the opioid epidemic, and we are committed to doing so in a bipartisan fashion. Just a few weeks ago, the House passed a package of 18 bills designed to address different aspects of the opioid epidemic with large bipartisan votes.

A few of the bills would help veterans who are struggling with opioid abuse. It isn’t uncommon for a veteran to come back from combat with serious injuries that require pain medicine. These bills require the Department of Veterans Affairs to bring their pain management guidelines up-to-date while also strengthening education and training for medical professionals.

Another bill would create an inter-agency task force to update medical standards for doctors and create a path forward for pain management. The key is to find ways to treat those with chronic pain while reducing the likelihood for addiction to develop.

The Good Samaritan Assessment Act would reform our “good Samaritan” laws to make sure people are protected if they seek medical care for someone who has overdosed on illegal drugs.

Yet another bill is designed to study and improve treatment options for babies impacted by prescription drug abuse while they are still in the womb. This is a serious issue that hits our nation’s most vulnerable.

The Senate has passed their own opioid legislation, and a Conference Committee will work out the differences between the House and the Senate proposals and get a bipartisan bill to the President’s desk.

At the end of the day, the epidemic is too serious for us to just sit back and hope things get better. We must act to stop opioid abuse and ensure that people get the treatment they need.

This is an issue where we can come together – as Republicans and Democrats – to address an issue that impacts every single community in the United States, and that is exactly what we are doing.

U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne represents the 1st Congressional District of Alabama, which includes Escambia County.