OP-ED: New legislation would help fight opioid crisis that is causing holiday heartbreak

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Washington, November 29, 2017 | comments

By, Rep. Mark Meadows, Rep. Jim Renacci | Fox News

Across America, far too many families and communities are spending this holiday season not with celebration or cheer, but with heartbreak over the loss or suffering of a loved one to the opioid epidemic.

This crisis has rocked the United States since the 1990’s. In that time it’s become widely referred to as an epidemic, or a rapid acceleration of prescription and non-prescription drug abuse.

The opioid crisis has devastated families, neighborhoods and communities across the country -- with nearly 90 Americans dying per day from opioid abuse, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Law enforcement officials, physicians, and treatment centers across the country have done an admirable job attempting to contain the problem. But the epidemic has left communities overwhelmed as they try to address the root causes of the problem and help rehabilitate those suffering from its impacts.

Beyond just the sheer number of Americans suffering, additional statistics underlying the issue are mind-blowing.

Take the year 2015, for example. Of the more than 90 million Americans who used prescription opioids in 2015, about 12 million admitted to misusing them. These people took drugs that were prescribed for someone else (a friend or family member) or were obtained illegally; took opioids for a reason other than directed by a doctor; or took opioids drugs in excessive amounts.

The effects of this problem aren’t limited to prescription drugs. Nearly 80 percent of individuals addicted to heroin started out on opioid pain relievers, meaning opioid prescriptions may be driving this separate epidemic altogether. This is just one example.

The opioid crisis hits home for both of us. Ohio, for example, currently leads the nation in prescription opioid overdose deaths. In 2016, at least 4,149 Ohioans died from unintentional drug overdoses.

It’s hardly surprising to say that the same year, roughly 20 percent of the state’s population – over 2.3 million Ohioans – were prescribed opioids. Thankfully, Ohio has enacted a seven-day limit on initial opioid prescriptions as one of many steps to address this epidemic.

North Carolina has also felt the devastation of the opioid crisis in a profound way. From 1996 to 2016, nearly 12,000 North Carolinians died from opioid related overdoses – with over 1,100 North Carolinians dying in 2015 alone. That’s an average of nearly 2.7 North Carolinians dying from addiction-related incidents per day in 2015.

According to a study from Castlight Health, four of the top 20 cities in America suffering from the highest rates of opioid addiction are located in North Carolina – including Wilmington, which ranks at the top of the list.

No longer can we as a country turn a blind eye to this issue. Families have been broken, children left without parents, and communities overrun by an epidemic that can be prevented.

Congress has to figure out a way to help create a climate that protects American citizens from the painful impacts of opioid addiction, rehabilitates those suffering, and prevents the crisis from growing even further.

That’s why, after a series of consultations with experts, industry groups, and law enforcement personnel, we are introducing the Opioid Abuse Deterrence, Research and Recovery Act.

This is a bill that we believe will go a long way in helping our nation get on the road to recovery from the opioid devastation by placing common-sense parameters around prescription medication.

Research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control shows that the risks for addiction to prescription opioids dramatically increases right around seven days.

Our bill would place a limit on a patient’s first opioid prescription for acute pain of no more than seven days, except in cases of traumatic injury, chronic conditions, cancer-care, end of life care, palliative care, or based on a physician’s recommendation.

The limitation to seven days would appropriately lower risks of abuse, while also providing flexibility for doctors and patients to receive treatment where needed.

North Carolina and Ohio have already recognized the importance of limiting opioid prescriptions by enacting or introducing similar policies that strengthen these patient protections. We believe applying these guidelines at a federal level would be extremely effective and protect both patients and doctors moving forward.

We’re committed to pushing for legislation to combat this epidemic, and there are several resources we encourage you and your family to use in the meantime.

You can visit The National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators website or The Diversion Control Division website to find locations to dispose controlled substances.

Studies show that as many as 92 percent of patients don’t finish their painkillers, and less than 10 percent of patients dispose of them properly, so disposing of unused prescriptions can make a world of difference.

Together, we can beat this epidemic and spend our future holiday season enjoying the company of family and friends rather than worrying what more we might have done to prevent the spread of this terrible epidemic.

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