Guest column: Striking back against the opioid crisis

June 25, 2018

Guest column: Striking back against the opioid crisis


June 23, 2018

By tomorrow morning, more than 100 Americans will have died because of opioid overdose. This killer doesn’t discriminate -- not by age, not by race, not by where you live or what you believe.

In Oregon, 506 people died from opioid overdoses in 2016 -- more than in traffic accidents. The people behind these numbers are what matter most. They are our family members, friends, loved ones and neighbors.

Across our district, I’ve heard heartbreaking stories from victims and families who are impacted by the opioid crisis. 

Chad, a resident of Bend, wrote to me recently and described his struggle as a recovering heroin addict. While he has been clean for four years, Chad knows all too well the difficulty for those currently suffering from opioid addiction to, as he said, “get on the road to recovery because I have lived it and know what they are going through.” 

I’ve heard from a mother named Paula, from Grants Pass, about how the opioid crisis has gripped the lives of her children. I asked Paula to share her family’s story as part of a panel before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which I chair. I wanted my colleagues to hear firsthand the impact of the epidemic. 

Paula said her son started using oxycodone as a teenager and soon made the transition to a cheaper, more potent source: heroin. To this day Paula’s son struggles with addiction, but finally is in treatment. 

Chad and Paula’s stories are all too similar and all too familiar. I’ve held roundtable discussions with parents, those struggling with addiction and those who treat the addicted. I’ve talked with law enforcement officials and emergency room physicians. I’ve sought the counsel and advice of those who are closest to this national problem. 

That input has informed our legislative work to put forth concrete solutions to help save lives and stem the tide of the opioid crisis. 

Over the past two weeks, the House of Representatives has passed dozens of bills to do just that. Ultimately, these bipartisan bills were included in my legislation, H.R. 6, the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act, which passed the House Friday. 

This bipartisan package will help in our overall efforts to advance treatment and recovery initiatives, improve prevention, protect our communities and bolster our efforts to fight deadly illicit synthetic drugs like fentanyl. 

In addition to numerous other provisions, H.R. 6 will incentivize non-opioid pain treatment and make it easier to locate and track federal grants, streamline the Food and Drug Administration’s tools to intercept illicit drugs, ensure hospitals develop follow-up protocols for when patients are discharged following an opioid overdose and work with states to improve the education, surveillance and treatment of injection drug-use associated infections. 

This latest effort in Congress follows the passage of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act and the 21st Century Cures Act last Congress. And earlier this year, we provided $4 billion more to help address prevention, treatment and enforcement issues. 

Collectively, this is the most significant congressional effort against a single drug crisis in history. 

But just as this was not our first effort to address the opioid crisis, you have my word that it won’t be our last. 

At a recent meeting in Southern Oregon, a man named Mike -- whose sister died from an opioid overdose and whose son currently struggles with addiction -- stressed the need to make combating the opioid crisis a top priority. Mike said, “The only way we are going to do it is address it, do something about it and make it an everyday part of our thought.” 

On behalf of Mike, Paula and Chad, and countless other Oregon families afflicted we will continue to address this crisis as an everyday part of our thoughts and efforts. We will continue to listen, legislate and evaluate until we win this deadly battle and help people overcome this terrible addiction.

Click here to read Rep. Walden's guest column online.