Hundreds of thousands of Americans have lost their lives in recent years due to drug abuse, and the problem only seems to be getting worse. In 2016, more than two million Americans had an addiction to prescription or illicit opioids.
An opioid is a type of narcotic derived from the opium poppy, which includes drugs such as morphine, codeine, hydrocodone, and oxycodone. While the drugs are often prescribed in response to injuries and body pains, they are easily abused and addictive.
The opioid issue in America has reached the point of a crisis. Since 2000, over 300,000 Americans have died from overdoses involving opioids. That is 300,000 families who lost loved ones. 300,000 parents, children, coworkers, spouses, and friends.
We are at the point when approximately 175 deaths each day are attributed to drug overdoses. Drug overdose is now the leading cause of injury death in the United Sates, even greater than both traffic crashes and gun-related deaths.
This is also not an abstract issue that does not impact us here in Southwest Alabama. I have spoken to numerous local law enforcement and medical officials about how the opioid drug abuse problem is prevalent in our own backyard.
Many of the people who become addicted to opioids first start taking the drugs legally after receiving a prescription from a doctor. For example, a common theme is athletes who suffer a sports-related injury, undergo surgery, and then become addicted to opioids during the recovery process.
The personal stories you hear are truly heartbreaking. As First Lady Melania Trump said about opioid abuse during a speech last week, “this can happen to any of us. Drug addiction can take your friends, neighbors, or your family. No state has been spared, and no demographic has been untouched.”
To be clear, addiction is not a criminal issue that simply requires putting more people in jail. In fact, that may be counterproductive in many situations. Instead, we need to work to help individuals battle through their addiction with a combination of counseling and other medical strategies.
Last week, President Donald Trump acted to help address the opioid crisis by declaring a public health emergency. Through this action, President Trump is mobilizing his entire Administration to address drug addiction and opioid abuse.
President Trump has also created the “President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and Opioid Crisis,” which is still actively preparing a report for the President on ways to further help combat the opioid crisis.
A big focus is also on increasing public awareness about the issue. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has launched the Prescription Awareness Campaign, which features real-life stories of people who have lost loved ones to prescription opioid overdose.
The House has also acted over the last two years to combat the opioid crisis. For example, we passed two important bipartisan bills to direct more resources and improve policies related to opioid abuse. The Comprehensive Recovery and Addiction Act combined multiple bills dealing with a full range of opioid-connected issues, while the 21st Century Cures Act included funding to help states address the opioid prescription drug crisis.
Clearly, additional funding is necessary to help save American lives, and this year’s government funding bill directed $781 million to help with addiction prevention, education, and treatment. The additional funding also goes toward helping local law enforcement officials as they tackle this heartbreaking epidemic.
We cannot and will not sit back and allow the opioid crisis to take the lives of the people we love and care for. We must fight back and ensure Americans get the help they need.
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Bradley Byrne is a member of U.S. Congress representing Alabama’s 1st Congressional District.