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Congress taking action to address opioid crisis, but more work remains

By BRETT GUTHRIE

U.S. Representative

If you’re reading this right now, chances are that someone you know — or maybe even someone close to you — is struggling with opioid addiction.

Last year, over 1,400 Kentuckians died from drug overdoses, including over 175 people in the Second District. These individuals were parents, children, siblings, other relatives and friends, and all were members of our community.

While we don’t have the comprehensive data yet, across the United States, drug deaths for 2016 are expected to exceed 64,000 — more than the number of Americans killed during the Vietnam War. The people who die from drug overdoses come from all walks of life, and anything less than an all-hands-on-deck strategy from Congress, the administration and state and local governments to reverse the devastating effects of the opioid epidemic would be a failure to our communities.

Last year, Congress passed two landmark pieces of legislation to address the opioid crisis. The first, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), authorized over $144 million in funding for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to combat the opioid crisis. CARA allowed the federal government to address the opioid epidemic from a number of angles. It included initiatives such as a grant program for opioid overdose reversal medication, residential treatment programs for pregnant or postpartum women and stricter guidance for the prescription of controlled substances.

Last year the House also passed the 21st Century Cures Act, a game-changing bill to expedite the discovery, development and delivery of new treatments and cures for rare diseases. The Cures Act included funding for mental health programs as well. Mental health and addiction are often intertwined, so funding from the 21st Century Cures Act will help address the opioid crisis by including funding for medical innovation in mental health programs.

As the vice chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Health Subcommittee, I was proud to work with my colleagues to enact these bipartisan bills into law, but our work to combat the opioid crisis is far from over. Throughout the past year, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other federal agencies have begun to implement CARA and the 21st Century Cures Act, and to make the bills’ funding available.

Our job in Congress now is to oversee implementation to ensure that programs are managed well and funds are delivered to the right places in a timely manner. The Committee on Energy and Commerce held a full committee hearing this fall specifically focused on the opioid crisis. We brought in representatives from various agencies to hear firsthand what progress is being made to help those suffering the effects of this awful epidemic, and how these programs are working. We heard about positive developments, but this is just the start of seeing true change in our communities, and there is much more work to be done. We are keeping the pressure on these agencies to work hard on delivering real results to people on the front lines of this battle.

In addition to my work in the Energy and Commerce Committee, I have been working with my other committee, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, to address the workforce shortage resulting from the opioid epidemic. As chairman of the Higher Education and Workforce Development Subcommittee, I co-chaired a hearing last month on how the opioid crisis is impacting our communities. The sheer human resources cost of the opioid crisis has taken a toll on our local economies.

Studies from the CDC show that the people most likely to die of an opioid overdose are between the ages of 25 and 39 years old — people who had entire lives and careers ahead of them. Efforts to reverse the vicious cycle created by opioid addiction must include helping people return to the workforce following treatment, and finding a good job once they are drug-free. As we in Congress continue to do our part to address the crisis, we must keep all of these things in mind, taking a holistic approach.

While Congress is working hard to address the opioid epidemic, state and local governments are on the front lines of dealing with this in our communities. I want to commend the work that the state government and all of the local governments in Kentucky are doing to combat this crisis. In fact, the House Energy and Commerce Committee had Kentucky Secretary of the Justice Cabinet John Tilley testify about dealing with the opioid crisis before our committee. It’s important for us to continue to work with those people on the ground to develop new ideas and to learn from existing programs that are working to fix this problem.

In 2016, more than 11.5 million Americans reported misuse of prescription opioids in the past year, and nearly 950,000 Americans reported heroin use. Our nation’s opioid crisis is widespread and has an impact on all of us. This must stop. Everywhere I go in the Second District, I hear from residents about how the opioid epidemic affects their community specifically. As your representative in Congress, I am committed to continuing to work with my colleagues to address this issue. We have started the rebuilding process in our country over the past several years, but more work remains to get rid of this problem for good.

Congressman Guthrie represents Kentucky’s Second District in the U.S. House of Representatives, including Boyle, Garrard and Mercer counties. He serves as vice chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health and chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee’s Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Development.