By now, you've probably seen at least a few of the latest images from America's ongoing drug epidemic: The young woman passed out from an overdose next to her 2-year-old on the floor of a Family Dollar. The couple slumped in a car, near death, with a 4-year-old in the back seat. Every month brings horrifying new stories and pictures of this new plague that is ravaging so many of our communities.
Both of us, unfortunately, are very familiar with these stories. We both grew up in upstate New York when it was rare to hear about people addicted to hard drugs and dying from overdoses. Now we hear about them all the time — Rep. Stefanik as a Congresswoman for the North Country, and Ms. Chamberlain as the president of the Republican Main Street Partnership.
We know that no community is exempt from the scourge of addiction. It's as big a problem in rural areas as it is in our big cities. It touches every racial and ethnic group, every geographical locale, and every socioeconomic status. It has a terrible impact on the estimated 2.5 million Americans who were addicted to heroin and pain pills in 2013, and it brings grief and turmoil to their families, friends, and loved ones. Drug-related crimes (including sex trafficking, burglaries, larcenies, and prostitution) are also on the rise.
We have seen how many Americans fell into addiction after being prescribed prescription painkillers, and we've learned the statistic that four in five new heroin users start after misusing prescription drugs. We know that in 2014 there were more than 47,000 overdose deaths, which amounts to 125 Americans dying of overdoses every day. One of the critical factors behind the skyrocketing number of overdoses is the growing availability of synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, which can be up to 50 times more powerful than heroin. Addicts are unknowingly ingesting heroin and painkillers laced with fentanyl and dying because the potency was much greater than anticipated.
We must continue to give our law enforcement the tools they need to fight this epidemic, and the full force of the law should be brought against dealers in our communities. But we also recognize that addicts need treatment. As many law enforcement officers have acknowledged, it's impossible to arrest our way out of this problem. That's why many legislators, including a number of Main Street's members, have come forward with bipartisan proposals to lessen the terrible toll of the drug epidemic.
Rep. Stefanik — a member of the Republican Main Street Partnership — is a member of the Bipartisan Heroin Task Force in Congress. In this capacity, she has advocated for many of the legislative measures that were incorporated into the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), which was signed into law by President Obama in July. This bipartisan package includes numerous programs that will address the four corners of addiction: prevention, treatment, recovery, and law enforcement.
Rep. Elise Stefanik
The programs authorized under CARA include measures to prevent opioid abuse, create evidence-based intervention and treatment programs, expand the availability of naloxone (a lifesaving overdose treatment), and strengthen prescription drug monitoring programs. It also would bring healing to the most innocent victims of the drug epidemic: the increasing number of babies who are born to drug-addicted mothers and begin life by going through an agonizing withdrawal from heroin and other opioids.
The government funding measure that passed Congress last month included funding for CARA that will jump-start these programs. When Congress returns after the elections, one of its top priorities should be to fully fund the programs authorized under CARA.
The synthetic opioids that are driving the spike in overdoses are spreading because they are cheap and easily obtained. Fentanyl, and even more dangerous substances such as carfentanil, can be ordered online from lawless pharmacies in China and India and shipped to dealers and users through the U.S. Post Office. A bipartisan group in Congress led by Ohio Rep. Patrick Tiberi, another member of the Republican Main Street Partnership, has introduced a bill that would require foreign shippers to provide identifying information for all packages sent to the U.S., which would make it easier for customs agents to halt the cross-border flow of deadly opioids.
Congress is taking on the drug crisis by addressing it through innovation, cooperation, and thoughtful action. Still, much more needs to be done to prevent drugs from reaching dealers and users, to make more treatment spaces available to addicts, and to educate young people about the dangers of substance abuse. We hope that the members of Congress will continue to work together to insure a drug-free future for our nation's children.
Congresswoman Stefanik represents New York's 21st District, and is the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. Sarah Chamberlain is President of the Republican Main Street Partnership and founder of the Women2Women Conversations Tour. They will be addressing women executives at Corning Inc. this week.
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