Congressman Greg Walden

Representing the 2nd District of Oregon

Greg Walden: Looking Beyond the Opioid Epidemic

February 12, 2020
Op-Eds

Looking Beyond the Opioid Epidemic 

By: Greg Walden 

 

It’s hard to know what to say to comfort a father who tells you how he found his bright, hard-working, teenage son dead on the family room floor less than a year ago. The autopsy showed the boy had ingested two types of fentanyl. The coroner said that even the small amount of powder he had used was 10 times more than what was needed to kill him. A deadly dose of fentanyl can be as small as the amount needed to cover Abe Lincoln’s ear on a penny.

It’s stories like this father’s that causes me to keep fighting this terrible scourge. And that’s why I recently led the House passage of legislation to help stop illegal fentanyl from getting into our communities.

One thing we all know by now - the opioid epidemic is still a national crisis that destroys lives and shatters families all across our state and our country. It has taken far too many lives and wreaked havoc on far too many communities.

In 2018, President Trump signed into law the nation’s most historic effort to combat the opioid crisis – the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act ­– which expands access to treatment and recovery services and provides new tools for keeping drugs out of communities. The legislation, which I authored, has already led to several successes. That same year, we started seeing fewer people die from overdoses and more people getting medical care for their substance use disorder. We’ve also seen new funding go to local caregivers and organizations to help provide for people in need both in Oregon and across the nation.

All of this is good news, but we have much more work to do. Moreover, we have to think beyond opioids and put a renewed focus on the stimulant epidemic.

Currently, the use of illicit stimulants, like cocaine and meth, is increasing. Tragically, according to a 2017 survey conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Oregon was ranked second in the nation for methamphetamine use. Even more concerning is the fact that this issue is only growing.

In 2018, the number of methamphetamine-related deaths in Oregon reached a historic high of 272, according to the Oregon-Idaho High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Program’s 2020 drug threat assessment. That number is nearing the combined total of deaths related to opioid use for Oregon. Since 2009, the number of methamphetamine deaths in our state has increased by a whopping 400 percent.

Recently, I joined a bipartisan group of federal lawmakers in raising concerns over the frightening increased use of stimulants that we are seeing. We sent letters to the Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security and the Drug Enforcement Administration noting that while we remain committed to improving treatment, prevention and protecting communities from deadly illicit drugs, we must also ensure our fight is multi-faceted. Appropriate attention and resources must be devoted to combating not just opioids, but also illicit stimulants like methamphetamine and cocaine.

In our letter, we emphasized the need for an agency response on this issue in order to better understand how the relevant agencies are monitoring and fighting the rising threat of illicit stimulant use.Oregon, beyond the Portland metropolitan area, has a relatively low rate of cocaine-involved overdose deaths. However, nationwide, cocaine use ­and overdose deaths are growing.

Nationwide, cocaine was involved with 14,948 drug overdose deaths in 2018, accounting for one in five of all overdose deaths that year. From 2016 to 2017, we saw a 37 percent increase in the number of Americans who died from an overdose involving psychostimulants, totaling more than 10,000 deaths.

These numbers are only going to get worse if we do not join forces and develop preventative measures and treatment for all substance use disorders. America answered the call to action when the opioid crisis swept across the nation and now America must do the same to combat the stimulant epidemic.