Weekly Columns

An Update on the Fight Against Opioid Abuse

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Washington, July 27, 2016 | Tiffany Haverly (202-226-8072) | comments

Last year, the Tennessee Department of Health announced that opioid overdoses in the state of Tennessee had reached epidemic proportions. In 2014, at least 1,263 Tennesseans died of an overdose, meaning more Tennesseans died from drug overdoses than car accidents. As a physician, I know some patients need help managing pain, but we must ensure medications are prescribed responsibly and any unused or expired medications are disposed of properly. We also need to take steps to protect children in the womb and to reduce prescription fraud. That’s why I’m proud to report that on July 22, President Obama signed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016 into law. This important bill will provide states like Tennessee critical resources to fight opioid abuse and overdoses. As I’ve said before, there is no silver bullet. This bill won’t solve all our problems overnight, but it’s a good start and I’m proud to have supported the bill when it passed the House with bipartisan support.

The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act authorizes grants to states to carry out a comprehensive response to opioid abuse, providing resources to help facilitate education, treatment and recovery efforts. These programs will ensure addicts can receive the help they need and reduce the number of overdose deaths we’re seeing nationwide. The legislation also authorizes grants to state and local governments and nonprofits to provide training to law enforcement and to study and implement alternatives to incarceration. Simply holding an addict in a detention facility does not address the root of their problem, and allowing inmates access to treatments will put them on the path to becoming productive members of society. Jails and prisons are used too often in the place of mental health clinics and rehabilitation facilities, and this measure will help remedy that. Additionally, this new law will not come at a cost to taxpayers. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act will reduce the federal deficit by $47 billion over ten years.

I’m extremely proud my proposal to encourage the proper disposal of unused or expired prescriptions was included in the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act. Additionally, the bill creates a task force on Pain Management to look at best practices for chronic and acute pain management. Some patients do need medication to help manage their pain, but we have to look at the way medications are prescribed in this country to make sure we aren’t overprescribing. While no health care provider wants their patients to suffer pain, medical emergencies and illnesses will not always be pain-free. This is why I support treating and tracking pain as a symptom rather than a vital sign.

Finally, the bill requires the Comptroller General to issue a report on neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) in the United States and reauthorizes the Residential Treatment Program for pregnant and postpartum women. NAS is the clinical term used when a baby is born addicted to drugs. As an OBGYN, this hits particularly close to home for me. In 2015, 986 cases of NAS were reported in Tennessee. Sullivan County, which is in my Congressional district, had the highest reported cases of NAS statewide. From January 1, 2016, through April 2, 2016, 203 cases of NAS were reported statewide. These numbers aren’t just heartbreaking statistics; behind every case reported there is a newborn child who suffers dangerous withdrawals at no fault of their own. We owe it to these children to act, which is why you can rest assured I will continue to support commonsense proposals in Congress that will help curb and combat the opioid epidemic.

Feel free to contact my office if I can be of assistance to you or your family. 
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