OP-ED: Combating an epidemic
It destroys families, communities and opportunities. It is not limited to race, gender, cultural or linguistic group, income or political party. It impacts all kinds of people — mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, men and women, young and old — leaving devastation in its wake. It is the opioid epidemic that is spreading at an alarming rate across the country ... and it affects us all.
Drug overdose has surpassed car crashes as the leading cause of accidental death in the United States, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 52 people die each day in the U.S. from prescription painkiller overdoses. In Missouri, more than one-twelfth of our adults report alcohol or illicit drug dependence. The addiction problem is even more pronounced among those between the ages of 18 and 25 years old, showing a much higher rate of 18.1 percent. From 2010 to 2013, approximately 13,000 emergency room visits in Missouri were attributed to drug use. Clearly, addiction is a major problem and cannot be ignored.
In a recent story by KOLR10 in Springfield, Paul Byersmith said, “... it’s terrible, but I really wish Craig would get arrested. Just get arrested, go to jail, so you are not really, like, using anymore. Because jail is better than the alternative of not being here anymore.” Unfortunately, Craig, Paul’s brother, died at the age of 20.
Traveling around our district, there are too many stories like this of families being torn apart. In Pulaski County, approximately 75 to 85 percent of all inmates have an addiction problem of some kind. And in counties across Missouri and the United States, this monster is running wild, causing the same destruction to communities and families alike.
Accepting the fact that opioid addiction is rapidly overwhelming this nation demands a speedy and aggressive response from our legislators, law enforcement officials, the medical community and our friends and neighbors.
Many law enforcement officials have accepted the age-old theory that the only way to attack our drug addiction problem is through enforcement. Though enforcement efforts will continue, law enforcement leaders have joined with legislators and communities to suppress this epidemic in other fashions. Community-involved groups and aggressive teen drug education programs, along with jailhouse counseling and rehabilitation efforts, are impacting drug addiction in a positive way. Further, laws such as those allowing the use of an overdose reversal drug, naloxone, or “Narcan,” by first responders are giving thousands of individuals a second chance at life following an overdose.
In our district, the Pulaski County Coalition Against Drugs is a group of citizens who have joined together to help educate county residents on the facts of drug abuse and addiction. They are doing a great job of bringing this subject to light and getting information into the hands of neighbors and friends to arm them in this effort. It is these ground-level efforts that will be the driving force in this fight. The scourge of drug abuse is a growing problem, and it will take all of us to help solve it.
Legislatively, a series of bills that passed in the U.S. House of Representatives aim to address various aspects of the nation’s troubling opioid and drug abuse crisis, ranging from addressing opioid addiction among our veterans, to helping babies suffering from withdrawal from exposure to narcotics, to outlining the current pain management best practices, and much more. Underlying the broad scope and severity of this epidemic, we saw extremely strong bipartisan support for these bills, including the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016, which passed by a vote of 400-5!
In Jefferson City, lawmakers have considered bills to fight back against the epidemic. A bill to increase access to Narcan saw wide support and is now with Gov. Nixon. Another bill to create a much-needed prescription drug monitoring database in Missouri, the only state without one, has seen more support as opiate addiction continues to wage war on our communities. Concerns with this bill need to be addressed so it can pass next session.
We will keep working to get communities involved to help educate their friends and neighbors, establish recovery courts to get people on the right paths and enact legislation to support our law enforcement’s efforts to address this epidemic. One thing is for certain, however — we cannot turn our head, we cannot ignore it, and we cannot pretend it is not there. We must talk about it, we must join together, and we must be willing to confront this issue head on. This fight is winnable, but it will take all of us.
Vicky Hartzler is U.S. representative for Missouri’s 4th congressional district.