The statistics are startling. More than 4,000 Ohioans lost their lives last year because of unintentional drug overdoses — a 32 percent increase compared to the previous year and the highest in the nation.
Every day across the U.S., 175 people are losing their lives due to drugs. More than 2 million Americans abuse prescription opioids.
As anybody who has lived through the loss of a loved one to drugs can tell you, the statistics only tell part of the story of the horrific cost of this crisis.
The lives lost are our sons, daughters, husbands, wives, fathers, and mothers. They are our neighbors. They are prominent members of our communities. They are young students.
For those who have not died, there are often broken marriages, derailed careers, and incarceration.
Opioid abuse does not discriminate — it crosses all lines including socio-economic status, geography, race, and gender. There is no community that is immune.
These days, the obituary sections in Ohio newspapers far too often show the pictures of young men and women with no cause of death listed. It’s impossible to look at the faces of lives cut short without belief that there is more we can do.
Recently, I held an opioid forum at Defiance College to bring representatives from federal agencies like the Department of Health and Human Services, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration together with local advocates to discuss solutions.
First responders, local advocates, and health-care professionals shared insights and personal stories about what they are seeing on the frontlines and what more we can do.
What was clear from the discussion was that there are many people locally, at the state level, and in our federal government who recognize the urgency of this crisis. They are working tirelessly to prevent addiction, provide treatment for those who are abusing opioids, and hold accountable those making, shipping, and selling illegal drugs. However, what many of them lack are the policies, information, and resources to stop the rise of this epidemic. Unfortunately, one of the most difficult parts of addressing this crisis is the lack of reliable information and data.
For instance, I recently wanted to find out how much grant funding overall was being provided on a state-by- state basis. I was shocked to find out that there was no central location to easily find this data. Considering that states like Ohio are being harmed much more than others by opioids, this information should be essential when crafting public policy on how to combat the epidemic.
Even worse, there is nowhere to find how effective government programs have been in combating opioids. For example, we don’t know how different state laws regarding prescriptions guidelines, treatment, and law enforcement affect drug prevention and recovery.
I have introduced legislation in Congress to solve this problem. The Indexing Narcotics, Fentanyl, and Opioids (INFO) Act would create an online public database to collect and distribute critical opioid-related data that can help governments at all levels, as well as advocates, determine the best way to find critical funding and solutions to combat this epidemic.
In addition to the INFO Act, I’ve worked as a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee to help craft legislation to combat the opioid problem.
For instance, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act was signed into law last year and authorizes needed resources and updates policies to fight the opioid epidemic.
It expands prevention and educational efforts to prevent the abuse of methamphetamines, opioids, and heroin, and to promote treatment and recovery. Many of the grants funded under CARA are now reaching our local communities.
The other piece of legislation was the 21 st Century Cures Act, which provided resources to state services as well. Overall, more than $30 million has been distributed in Ohio through those two pieces of legislation.
The Energy and Commerce Committee is also continuing its work to hold bad actors accountable by conducting investigations into the opioid epidemic, including pill dumping and patient brokering.
This crisis will need all hands on deck at the local, state, and federal level. It’s going to take law enforcement, the courts, the medical community, and nonprofits to all work together as well.
That can only happen if we’re using the same information, and therefore, aim to achieve the same goals.
Ohio is ground zero for this crisis, and we have to turn this distressing trend around. Failure is not an option.
Bob Latta is the U.S. representative for Ohio’s 5th congressional district.
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