Friday, January 15, 2016
Billy Long: America is in a full-blown opioid abuse epidemic
In an unofficial survey conducted by yours truly, I found that of the 435 members of Congress, all 435 of them are convinced their district has more opioid and heroin abuse than any other. With an average of 51 deaths a day due to addiction to painkillers, America is in a full-blown opioid abuse epidemic. Earlier this Congress, the House Committee on Energy & Commerce held numerous hearings examining the harrowing realities of opioid addiction in America.
According to National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) data, Americans are responsible for consuming 80 percent of the entire world’s prescription opioids – painkillers like Vicodin, OxyContin, and Percocet – despite making up less than 5 percent of the global population. Some reports have suggested that 2.1 million Americans abuse these prescriptions, which has led to a 153 percent increase of inpatient hospitalizations for opioid abusing adults over the past two decades. Experts have also found that Americans under the age of 30 are responsible for the fastest increasing rate of addiction or abuse.
Worse, this explosion of opioid addiction isn’t just about prescription overuse; it is a major catalyst for heroin addiction. Often, those who have become addicted to opioids turn to heroin as a cheaper alternative to the painkillers. Due in significant part to this tendency, heroin use and its resulting deaths are on the rise. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 45 percent of those who have used heroin are also addicted to prescription opioid painkillers.
Missouri is no exception to our nation’s frightening opioid abuse trends. Between 2005 and 2014, emergency room visits for opioid overuse in Missouri more than doubled. In the Seventh Congressional District, the area reaching from Bolivar south to Springfield, and the area from Branson southward to the state border have been identified as Southwest Missouri’s opioid abuse hotspots.
Nationally, about two people die from prescription opioid overdoses each hour. That is a public health statistic that we in Congress must act on. Opioid addiction is a chronic brain disease that can be treated. However, less than one-tenth of the 23 million Americans struggling with alcohol and drug abuse addiction are receiving treatment. On top of that, the overwhelming majority of those who are receiving treatment aren’t getting effective evidence-based treatment.
To fight this plague of addiction, we need to take a comprehensive approach that includes studying the nature of opioid prescriptions to treat chronic pain. Furthermore, we cannot allow those suffering from opioid addiction to go untreated. They need to know their treatment options, and be enabled to choose from a range of proven treatment methods that include behavioral therapies.
Several pieces of bipartisan legislation were introduced into the House Energy & Commerce Committee last year to begin discussing the most prudent actions forward on these very goals. We simply cannot afford to allow opioid abuse to ruin more American lives than it already has. The 51 people that will die tomorrow due to their addiction shouldn’t have had to wait this long for help. Perhaps there is light at the end of the tunnel, as some medical device manufacturers think they are close to bringing non-invasive, non-drug, pain relief to patients in the near future.