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Monroe News: Finding solutions to the opioid crisis

June 11, 2018
Opinion Editorial

Everywhere I go around Michigan, I hear about the opioid crisis plaguing our state and country. The terrifying realities of addiction — for families from all walks of life in all zip codes — are difficult to escape.

We lose 115 Americans every day to this deadly epidemic. The situation is especially dire for our nation’s youth. Opioids are involved in the deaths of one in five young adults, according to new data.

A legislative response is already full speed ahead in the House of Representatives.

In the prior Congress, we took significant strides by enacting two sweeping laws, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act and the 21st Century Cures Act.

These initiatives are delivering more resources to the local level, including $32 million in targeted grants to the state of Michigan through the Cures Act. The most recent government funding bill also included $4 billion to enhance enforcement, prevention, and treatment programs.

Still, more work remains. The Energy and Commerce Committee, on which I serve, has redoubled our efforts to address this public health crisis and its many contributing factors.

The sheer amount of prescription drugs that have flooded into small communities is alarming, and a bipartisan investigation is underway to look into alleged pill dumping by large distributors. In one staggering case, a small West Virginia town of 400 people received nearly nine million opioids over a two-year period.

We have also held a series of legislative hearings, listening to families affected by addiction and considering feedback from a wide spectrum of experts. This collaborative approach has culminated in a bipartisan package of 57 bills approved by the committee.

Two of them are bipartisan bills I introduced along with Congresswoman Debbie Dingell (D-MI).

The first is Jessie’s Law. The bill is named after Jessie Grubb, a Michigan resident, who tragically overdosed on opioids she was given following a medical procedure, despite telling the hospital she was in recovery from an opioid addiction.

Jessie’s Law will help prevent overdose tragedies by ensuring medical professionals have access to a consenting patient’s complete health information so they can provide safe treatment and proper care.

Our second bill is the Safe Disposal of Unused Medication Act, which is aimed at stopping the misuse or diversion of opioids in a hospice setting. Many patients receiving this type of care need painkillers to assist with end-of-life pain.

Leftover medication, however, can languish in medicine cabinets, increasing the risk of diversion into the community. Equipping hospice professionals with the ability to safely dispose of unused drugs will help ensure they don’t end up in the wrong hands.

My bills, along with the broader legislative package, are scheduled to be considered on the House floor in June.

From the beginning, our push to find solutions has been informed by local leaders. The families, non-profits, law enforcement officials, and medical professionals I’ve met with across the 7th District have offered on-the-ground knowledge integral to developing best practices. Their stories are often heartbreaking. Yet their work, day in and day out, makes a real difference. The federal government should support and be a partner in their efforts.

No community can fight this battle alone. It is a fight we must wage—and win—together.

— U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg represents Michigan’s 7th Congressional District and is a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee and the Bipartisan Heroin Task Force. This op-ed originally appeared in the June 10 edition of the Monroe News.