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Monroe News: Offering hope, help for the drug epidemic

May 1, 2017
Opinion Editorial

When you open up the newspaper, it’s hard to miss all the heartbreaking stories about heroin and prescription drug abuse: overdoses, families torn apart and young people failing to reach their full potential. It’s a deeply personal and painful issue for many of our friends and loved ones.

But there is a ray of hope: Community leaders are fighting back and elected officials at every level are collaborating on strategies to tackle drug addiction.

From the federal level, more help is on the way. The Department of Health and Human Services recently announced new grants to boost local efforts in states like Michigan to combat this epidemic. The grants were made possible by the 21st Century Cures Act, a bipartisan initiative I proudly voted for and helped champion in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Thanks to this law, Michigan is set to receive more than $16 million in the first round of grants-resources that will go directly into the hands of those working on the front lines to provide prevention, treatment, and recovery services. It will enhance education efforts about the dangers of drug addiction and offer a helping hand to those who need a chance to get well.

Though Congress has taken significant strides on the legislative front, including sweeping reforms and additional funding through the bipartisan 21st Century Cures Act and the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, more work needs to be done.

One example is in the area of pain management and prescribing practices. Together with Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, I recently introduced “Jessie’s Law,” a bipartisan bill named after Michigan resident Jessie Grubb who died of an opioid overdose last year. She was undergoing surgery for a running injury and her parents informed hospital personnel that she was a recovering addict. Tragically, that message never made it to the doctor who discharged her. Jessie left the hospital with a prescription for 50 oxycodone pills and fatally overdosed that same night.

“Jessie’s Law” would help ensure doctors have access to a consenting patient’s prior history of addiction in order to make fully informed care and treatment decisions. Jessie’s story is a heartbreaking example of needlessly losing a loved one to this battle and we introduced this bipartisan bill to help prevent cases like hers and save lives.

On top of heroin and prescription drugs, the next wave of the opioid crisis is the surge of the synthetic opioid fentanyl on our streets. Shipped primarily from China, fentanyl is roughly 50 times more potent than heroin and cheaper to illicitly manufacture. Drug traffickers frequently mix fentanyl with other drugs like heroin making it harder to detect. In a recent Energy and Commerce Committee hearing, we heard from experts and examined ways to stop these deadly drugs from crossing the border and plaguing our communities. This deadly and emerging threat also needs our immediate attention.

The challenges compounding this epidemic are multifaceted and so too must be our response. I’ve met with the local law enforcement officials, medical professionals, treatment providers and citizens of all backgrounds who wake up each day ready to confront drug addiction. It’s all hands on deck. Ensuring that the federal government is a strong partner in this fight will continue to be my priority.

U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg represents Michigan’s 7th Congressional District and is a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee and the Bipartisan Task Force to Combat the Heroin Epidemic. For more information on his work on this issue, visit walberg. This op-ed originally appeared in the May 1 edition of the Monroe News.