Weekly Columns

Working Together to Tackle the Opioid Epidemic

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Washington, June 13, 2018 | Lani Short (202-225-6356) | comments

With opioids ravaging our communities, it’s critical we use every available resource to fight this deadly epidemic. Did you know that 80 percent of opioids prescribed in the world are prescribed in the United States? According to the Tennessee Department of Health, in 2016 alone, 1,186 people died from opioid overdoses. In fact, in 2016, we lost more people to opioid-related deaths than we lost in combat during the entire Vietnam War. Opioids have become one of the leading causes of death in the United States, and this is a clear sign that we have to aggressively address this crisis.

Over the next two weeks, the House will consider dozens of bills to expand treatment and recovery options; increase overdose and misuse prevention; protect communities by giving law enforcement the resources they need to get these dangerous drugs out of our communities; and better fight ever-expanding and changing synthetic drugs. You can read more about our efforts at www.opioidcrisis.gop. These bills follow a significant infusion of funding that was received as a result of this year’s funding bill, which provided $4 billion in opioid-related funding.

One of the bills we are considering this week, Jessie’s Law, introduced by Rep. Tim Walberg (MI), will ensure doctors are made aware of a patient’s prescribing history so that patients with a history of addiction can avoid being given opioids. The law is named after a young woman who was a recovering addict and was prescribed opioids following a running injury, which ultimately led to her death. So many of the stories you hear about opioid overdoses are all the more tragic because they are entirely preventable.

President Trump is taking this epidemic very seriously and already declared it a “national public health emergency,” which designates federal agencies to devote more resources to help states fight this crisis. This March, the president also discussed the White House Opioid Initiative, which is designed to reduce drug demand through education, awareness and preventing over-prescribing; to cut off the flow of illicit drugs; and to expand opportunities for recovery and treatment. In addition, the Office of National Drug Control Policy recently launched a campaign targeted at preventing the misuse of opioids among youth and young adults. It’s clear this issue is a priority for the president, and I thank the Trump administration for their commitment to addressing this epidemic that is affecting East Tennessee especially hard.

Opioids aren’t only affecting adults. This week, the First Lady and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released information on the health care costs associated with the births of babies suffering from neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS). NAS occurs when a baby experiences the withdrawal effects of an addictive drug that he or she was exposed to in the womb. As a physician who delivered nearly 5,000 babies, I rarely saw a case of NAS in my practice. Now, East Tennessee has the highest rate of NAS in the state. According to the Tennessee State Government, in 1999, there were around 50 opioid NAS babies; however, in 2016, there were over 1000 NAS babies. This is a heartbreaking statistic; one I fear is often overlooked as we debate the best ways to curb and prevent opioid abuse and overdoses around the country.

The opioid epidemic is plaguing individuals and families all across America and in East Tennessee. I’m proud President Trump and Congress are working through solutions to this terrible problem in our country, but the solution won’t come from one place. We must work together with local and state agencies in order to tackle this devastating crisis, and I look forward to continuing to do just that.

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