Op-Ed: A non-discriminant killer, a unified response
It usually starts out harmlessly. Painkillers are prescribed to individuals who need them and may be unaware of their addictive nature. Other times physicians are pressured to alleviate a patient’s pain to maintain approval ratings. Quickly and unintentionally, people get addicted. If those prescription opioids become unavailable, heroin is there.
These opioids, found in home medicine cabinets and on bathroom counters, are so powerful the body quickly develops a fast and more intense craving. An estimated 6.5 million Americans abuse prescription drugs. Now it is a leading cause of death, surpassing those from motor vehicle accidents in the United States.
This opioid epidemic transcends socioeconomic status, educational levels, racial differences and age gaps. It hits urban, suburban and rural areas.
I was a state and federal prosecutor for over a decade. I am familiar with the consequences of drug addiction and overdose. I know this: Just locking people up will not solve this problem.
So what do we do? In a series of roundtable forums that I conducted across the 18th Congressional District, I posed this question to law enforcement officers, drug task force representatives, prosecutors, judges, addiction specialists and those who have lost loved ones to opioid overdose. The answer isn’t simple, but it was consistent: This complex problem requires a multifaceted approach.
At its core, this problem is a public health crisis, not a law enforcement-centered issue. Every puzzle piece must be in place to terminate this crisis.
Recently the U.S. House passed legislation with my strong support and input aimed at addressing this crisis. These measures range from enhancing treatment to preventing addictions in the first place by updating medical best practices, to allowing prescriptions to be partially filled to prevent over-prescription. The Comprehensive Opioid Abuse Reduction Act of 2016, creates a streamlined opioid abuse grant program, authorizing $103 million annually for a variety of programs, including residential substance abuse treatment, drug courts, training for law enforcement, and criminal investigations for unlawful distribution of opioids.
People battling opioid addiction are not all bad; many are merely trying to get well. We cannot arrest or spend our way out of this problem. We must work our way out of it together to ensure resources are spent in the most impactful way for those on the front lines in our communities.
Congressman Darin LaHood represents Illinois’ 18th District, which includes Peoria, in the U.S. House of Representatives.