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Independent Journal Review | April 6, 2016

In my home of Kern County, California, over the past six years more than 160 people have been sent to the emergency room for opioid overdoses every year. Another 45 died from overdoses in 2012 alone.

Addiction tears apart families, it uproots communities, but, most fundamentally, it deprives Americans of the individual liberty to grasp their dreams and opportunities. It’s also preventable. That is what makes the tragedy of addiction so hard—it is a slow-motion devastation that could have been stopped.

Unfortunately, the numbers of those affected by this opioid epidemic are on the rise, stretching far past Kern county across America and ruining countless lives.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 78 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose. That’s not counting the thousands who are estranged from their families, unable to work, and living shadows of their former lives because of their addiction.

And this problem has only gotten worse over time. The CDC has found that now more than six out of ten drug overdoses involve opioids. Opioid addiction is tied strongly to prescription abuse, and in 2012 health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions to people for opioids, enough that every single adult in America could have had their own bottle of pills. Since 1999, opioid prescriptions have quadrupled. As of 2013, a full 55 percent of all drug deaths are linked to prescription opioid painkillers or heroin.

This epidemic is now increasingly affecting women. Men continue to die of painkiller overdoses at a higher rate than women, but that gap is getting smaller. The CDC reports that more than five times as many women died from such overdoses in 2010 as they did in 1999, increasing to about 18 deaths per day.

These numbers have a real human cost, and opioid addiction affects every race, gender, and socioeconomic level in America.

While families and communities are and should remain on the front lines to fight the tide of addiction, Congress has a role as well. The federal government should support community efforts to battle addiction and improve regulations governing opioid prescriptions.

The Senate—led by Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Rob Portman of Ohio—should be commended for their work to combat opioid addiction.

Members of the House have been working hard to respond to this crisis as well, and as Majority Leader, I plan to schedule multiple bills on the floor to address the nationwide opioid epidemic.

Two of my colleagues, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (WI-5) and Dr. Larry Bucshon (IN-8) are working on bills to improve treatment, prevention, and education efforts for those with opioid addiction.

Meanwhile, Rep. Susan Brooks (IN-5) has a bill that would create better guidance to the medical community about the best practices for pain management and medication prescribing so that fewer people fall into the trap of addiction through perfectly legal prescriptions.

Likewise, Rep. Evan Jenkins (WV-3) has focused on babies suffering from withdrawal after being born of opioid-addicted mothers with a bill to improve newborn care.

However, we cannot forget that so many of these problems stem not only from abuse, but from the illicit drug trade as well. Unfortunately, today we are consistently a step behind in stopping trafficking of opioids and other illegal drugs, but Reps. John Katko (NY-24) and Charlie Dent (PA-15) are working on bills to improve operation of our drug laws.

The House’s goal is simple. We want to build on efforts to prevent addiction and treat those suffering, crafting legislation that will gather bipartisan support and get signed into law. The President’s own proposals to combat opioid addiction demonstrate that there is ample opportunity to reach a bipartisan consensus, and the Senate’s recent work to combat opioid addiction shows bicameral legislative interest. We will review all of these ideas as we move forward in scheduling legislative action.

House Committees should complete work on legislation in April, and I plan to bring these bills for a vote on the House floor in May.

There is no quick cure to the problem of opioid addiction, but we can and should do more to stop the tide of this epidemic so the American people can live freer and happier lives.