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OP-ED: U.S. House Takes Action on Opioid / Heroin Crisis

Prescription opioids and heroin addiction are ravaging our Nation, causing heartache and pain for millions of American families and destroying communities.  Central Pennsylvania is far from immune; York County had 95 drug-related deaths in 2015 - 65 from heroin and/or fentanyl packaged as heroin – and nearby counties report similar trends. More Pennsylvanians die from drug overdose than any other type of incident, including car accidents.

These aren’t just numbers or statistics.  The people battling addiction are moms and dads, neighbors and students. They’re sick people trying to get well -- not bad people trying to reform themselves. Addiction doesn’t care about your race, gender, income or political leanings; it’s an issue that affects everyone, because it impacts every community and/or people we love.  In 2014, almost 2 million Americans had a substance use disorder involving opioids, and over half a million had a substance use disorder involving heroin.

While these statistics should concern you, the fact that 467,000 adolescents were non-medical users of opioids in 2014, demands a call for action.  As a father of two young girls, I’ll not idly sit by and watch more of our community’s children be exposed to this growing epidemic.  I’m glad to report that the U.S. House of Representatives has taken action to combat the opioid epidemic and provide treatment to help those affected reclaim their lives.

Last week, House Members worked together to pass solutions to help heal those suffering the most.  We passed a bill package providing for the enhancement of rehabilitation facilities and access to treatment, as well as grants to states and communities for intervention and prevention.  When people battling opioid addiction hit rock bottom, they need the opportunity to get back on their feet; specifically, the Comprehensive Opioid Abuse Reduction Act gives states and localities the tools to stop this growing epidemic. We also passed a bill that provides for a study detailing the available resources for preventing opioid addiction among teenagers / adolescents who play youth sports and are prescribed an opioid after an injury.

One of the most heartbreaking realities of the opioid epidemic is that many newborns suffer as a result of prenatal opioid use. One of the bills we passed requires the Department of Health and Human Services to ensure we’re doing everything we can to protect infants from this scourge. The cost of this bill package is offset by spending reductions in other programs.

While Congress has taken an important step in fighting the opioid epidemic, the real leaders of this effort will be the citizens of our local communities. Here in Central Pennsylvania, we’re addressing this challenge head-on; partnerships like York County's Heroin Task Force have united families, medical providers, law enforcement and other partners to educate us about the heroin problem, signs/symptoms of addiction, and available resources for reducing drug-related deaths and crime in our communities. These efforts are bearing results:  thanks to aggressive local efforts to equip law enforcement with the anti-overdose drug Naloxone, hundreds of lives already have been saved in Pennsylvania.

Still, we can do more.  We need to be more responsible consumers of prescription drugs. Use your prescriptions exactly as directed; don’t share them, and above all, properly dispose of your unused medications. Many local police departments now offer drug drop-boxes. Parents, especially, are on the front lines of this issue, and are responsible for educating our children about the dangers of prescription medication.  We can all help support recovery efforts; if you see someone struggling with addiction, please help them overcome the stigma that may be stopping them from getting help - encourage them to seek help through their local Drug and Alcohol Commission.

Completely ending addiction nationwide may not be possible, but together, we absolutely can save lives and begin to restore hope in every community.

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