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Jackson Cit Pat: Heroin addiction requires comprehensive action

June 14, 2016
Opinion Editorial
Christopher Risner was a standout high school athlete with scholarship offers to play basketball in college. Then his life spiraled out of control.

At first, he started taking medication to cope with his depression, but it eventually led to opioid and heroin addiction. After several stints in and out of rehab, Christopher is now clean and in recovery.

He shared his personal story at a recent community forum I hosted at Jackson High School to collaborate with law enforcement officials, medical professionals and other local leaders who are stepping up to fight against drug addiction.

Everywhere I go across Michigan's 7th District I hear stories about the strong grip of heroin and opioid addiction. Some, like Christopher, are back on their feet and reclaiming their lives. Others have experienced the heartbreaking loss of a child, sibling, parent or friend.

In 2014, 1,745 people in Michigan died of a drug overdose. Across the country, an American dies of an overdose every 12 minutes. Addiction is a national struggle and the need for action is immediate. It tears families apart and robs people from all walks of life of their future.

As a member of the Bipartisan Task Force to Combat the Heroin Epidemic, I am committed to working together to elevate this issue and find community-based solutions for those who are suffering. 

The House recently passed a broad package of 18 bipartisan bills that tackle this full-blown health crisis from every angle – from prevention to treatment to recovery. 

One of them is the Comprehensive Opioid Abuse Reduction Act which establishes a streamlined grant program, giving our partners at the state and local level the flexibility to tailor prevention and treatment efforts to the specific needs of their communities. The bill also expands training and resources for law enforcement and first responders to use the overdose reversal drug Naloxone.

For many addicts, heroin abuse often begins with prescription painkillers. To help prevent over-prescribing of these drugs, another bill the House passed establishes a task force of health care experts to review, develop, and disseminate safe pain management best practices.

Some of the most heartbreaking stories of addiction involve drug-dependent babies who enter the world with all the odds stacked against them. The Infant Plan of Safe Care Improvement Act, which I helped introduce, strengthens the child welfare system to ensure vulnerable newborns don't slip through the cracks and their caregivers can get the help they need.

Also included in the 18-bill package were initiatives to increase safety for opioid therapy for veterans, protect first responders and citizens who act as Good Samaritans in emergency situations, combat the supply of illicit drugs from international traffickers, and more.

The next step for our comprehensive legislation is a conference committee with the Senate to negotiate a final product to send to the President's desk to be signed into law. I'm optimistic this will happen in short order.

Legislation alone won't end this epidemic, but working together with the community, we can fight back with a multifaceted approach that prevents drug addiction before it begins and offers treatment and recovery to those who need a helping hand and a chance to heal. As people like Christopher show, there can be hope for a better future.

U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg represents Michigan's 7th Congressional District and is a member of the Bipartisan Task Force to Combat the Heroin Epidemic. This op-ed originally appeared in the June 12 edition of the Jackson Citizen Patriot.