Possibly one of the most urgent issues facing our nation today is opioid addiction. Drugs called opioids include illegal drugs like heroin, as well as prescription medicines like morphine, fentanyl, oxycodone, and hydromorphone. The use of any of them – even using them as prescribed by a doctor – can lead to addiction. Improper use, or Illegal abuse, of any of these drugs can result in fatal overdoses. Nearly 12 million Americans abused opioids in 2017, more than 2 million were addicted to opioids that year, and more than 40,000 died from opioid overdoses. 67 percent of drug overdose deaths involved opioids, and 35 percent of all opioid overdose deaths in 2017 involved a prescription opioid.
Deaths from overdoses have increased dramatically over the last 20 years.
There’s a crisis here in Pennsylvania, too. Nearly 5,000 Pennsylvanians died of overdoses in 2016, and the Philadelphia Inquirer recently reported that “Opioid-related emergency-department visits in Pennsylvania increased 81 percent from July 2016 to September 2017.”
In Allegheny County, there were 670 deaths from opioid overdoses in 2017. As the chart below shows, opioid overdose deaths have DOUBLED in Allegheny County since 2014. Overdose deaths caused by prescription opioids have fluctuated around 100 per year, but as the chart shows, many more overdose deaths in Allegheny County have involved the illegal drugs heroin and fentanyl since 2011 and 2015, respectively.
I’ve been working locally to encourage the widespread distribution and use of Naloxone, a drug that can often save the life of someone who’s overdosed on opioids. More widespread use of Naxalone may have contributed to the recent drop in overdose deaths from heroin, fentanyl, and prescription opioids. I believe that even more lives could be saved if its availability were increased.
A different, but equally important, challenge is getting individuals who are addicted to opioids into effective treatment programs that help them stop abusing these powerful, deadly drugs.
Congress is currently involved in considering legislation to prevent opioid abuse and addiction, reduce the number of overdose deaths, remove existing barriers to opioid treatment, and promote recovery.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee, on which I serve, held two marathon sessions in May 2018 to consider legislation addressing the opioid crisis. All told, we approved 57 bills dealing with different aspects of the crisis, including two that I introduced with several colleagues:
- H.R. 5176, the Preventing Overdoses While in Emergency Rooms (POWER) Act, which I introduced with Representative David McKinley (R-WV), would provide funding for the development of procedures for Emergency Rooms to ensure that patients who are treated for opioid overdoses have immediate access to the addiction treatment and other services they need. H.R. 5176 was approved by the Committee by voice vote – which is basically unanimous approval.
- H.R. 5684, the Protecting Seniors From Opioid Abuse Act, which I introduced with Representatives Mike Kelly (R-PA), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), and Mike Thompson (D-CA), would add Medicare patients at risk for prescription drug abuse to the list of beneficiaries eligible for Medication Therapy Management (the most effective form of addiction treatment) under Medicare Part D. H.R. 5684 was also approved by the full Committee by voice vote.
Most of those bills received broad bipartisan approval, and they were included in a larger bill, H.R. 6, which was approved by the full House of Representatives on June 20, 2018 – and signed into law on October 24, 2018. That was a good first step towards making addiction treatment available to more Americans.
The biggest obstacle to treatment for opioid addiction, however, is usually its cost – and on that front, Congress has done far too little, which is unfortunate since it’s extraordinarily cost-effective. I will continue to work to ensure that everyone addicted to opioids has access to affordable, effective addiction treatment.
For additional information about addiction and treatment, the following resources are a good place to start: