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Representative Darin LaHood

Representing the 18th District of Illinois

Commentary: Law will help combat opioid overdoses

August 9, 2016

About 6.5 million Americans are addicted to it. Seventy-eight people die each day across our nation because of it. Last year, law enforcement in the 18th District of Illinois alone seized over 246 pounds of it. Almost 1,000 doses of lifesaving Narcan were provided to residents in Peoria and Tazewell counties to treat it.

What is it? The abuse and overdose of prescription opioids and heroin.

Is this epidemic new? Sadly not. Is it accelerating in intensity and impact across our nation? Yes. Did the legislative and executive branch work together do something about it? Actually, yes.

Earlier this spring, the House and the Senate passed legislation targeting heroin and prescription opioid abuse and combined their efforts this summer to create the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, signed into law by the president on July 22. This new law is a crucial step in the fight to end the heroin and opioid epidemic sweeping our nation.

I traveled across my district in May to host roundtables with law enforcement officers, drug task force representatives, prosecutors, judges, addiction specialists, healthcare professionals and those who have lost loved ones to overdose or suffer from addiction. The takeaway from these discussions in Quincy, Peoria and Springfield was clear: any lasting solution must be comprehensive and multifaceted.

First responders need resources to effectively provide immediate lifesaving treatment for an individual suffering from an overdose. Treatment and rehabilitation centers face overwhelming demand for their services, particularly in rural areas, where treatment facilities are sparse. Law enforcement officials need the federal government to support them as they work to improve officer training to respond to the accelerated amount of drug overdose cases. Attorneys, judges and drug court representatives outlined new ideas to reduce incarceration as the sole response to substance abuse. Finally, we need to preemptively target the root causes of heroin and opioid abuse to prevent future addictions.

These round tables served as the foundation for my work on this issue in Congress and CARA provides solutions to concerns.

CARA creates several new grant programs and provides states flexibility in utilizing resources. Specifically, it provides new avenues of assistance for communities to purchase and distribute opioid overdose reversal drugs like Narcan, to expand access to desperately needed addiction treatment and rehabilitation services and centers, to provide additional law enforcement training for emergency treatment of overdoses, and to focus on finding alternatives to incarceration for first time addicts. It also establishes a task force on pain management to help identify best practices for physician management of chronic pain and authorizes grants to create and improve state-based prescription drug monitoring programs. Additionally, it improves existing federal programs to increase awareness and education.

Will this one law end the opioid overdose epidemic we face entirely? Probably not.

Is it a necessary and responsive multifaceted approach that will curb and even reduce its growth? Yes.

What’s next? We all must make this public health crisis a priority to prevent future generations from suffering with addiction.

Darin LaHood is congressman for the 18th District of Illinois.