House action imperative in the fight against addiction

Drug addiction is an ugly problem that has been pushed aside for far too long.

As recently as late last year, authorities estimated that there are currently between 435,000 and 1.5 million heroin users in the United States. Many of these users became addicted through the use of prescription drugs, and an alarming number of them are younger than 25 years old.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heroin use more than doubled among young adults ages 18-25 in the past decade and 45 percent of all heroin users were also addicted to prescription opioid painkillers.

The rise of heroin abuse started in the mid-2000s.  We have heard stories of student athletes who were injured and prescribed painkillers and eventually became addicted.  As pills got harder and more expensive to buy and government rightfully cracked down on prescription abuse, the addiction took over their lives and these once promising young people went down the path toward heroin because it was a cheaper and widely available alternative. This story has been repeated over and over again by not just student athletes but by Americans of every socioeconomic stripe.  Heroin doesn’t discriminate; it is a potent and highly addictive drug that puts a user into situations of self-destruction.

Between 2002 and 2013, national heroin deaths nearly quadrupled, reaching more than 8,000 annually by 2013, and a 2001 report by the National Center for Biotechnology Information found that the economic cost of heroin use in the United States was a staggering $21.9 billion.

There is simply no denying that heroin and opioid abuse has silently seized a devastating hold on this country. The moral, emotional, physical, and financial toll it has taken is tremendous, but not insurmountable.

The moment to reverse our current course and make a genuine and lasting impact in the fight against addiction is here. When it comes to heroin and opioid abuse, lawmakers have put aside political gamesmanship, departed from business as usual, and reached across the aisle in bipartisanship in order to serve the best interest of this nation.

Last week – on a 94 to 1 vote – the United States Senate passed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA). This overwhelming show of bipartisan support is a testament to not only the seriousness of the problem, but also the urgency of the situation.

Between 2006 and 2011, Wisconsin experienced a 350 percent increase in heroin samples submitted to the Wisconsin State Crime Laboratory by law enforcement. In 2012, the number of heroin-related deaths jumped by nearly 50 percent and statewide data shows one quarter of Wisconsinites who abuse the drug began using when they were younger than 25 years old.

The statistics coming from Virginia are equally troubling. In Loudoun County, there were no heroin-related deaths in 2011, but since 2012 there have been 28 investigated by the Loudoun County Sherriff’s office – and that is just one county. In 2014, there were 728 deaths caused by heroin abuse throughout the Commonwealth, which is more than those caused by car accidents.

These challenges are not exclusive to Wisconsin or Virginia; they are shared nationwide by all socioeconomic groups.

All over the country, people are calling on Congress to find solutions. In town hall meetings, on the campaign trail, and through social media, lawmakers are hearing the heartbreaking stories of broken families, seeing the tragic aftermath of addiction in once-thriving communities, and personally feeling the poignant loss that often comes from those lost to addiction.

The Senate has taken action. The House must now do the same.

Key researchers, law enforcement agencies, and addiction treatment providers all agree that the most effective way to approach addiction is to pursue a comprehensive response, which must include a strict focus on prevention, law enforcement strategies to stop drug dealers and traffickers, a plan to address overdosing, and an expansion of evidence-based treatment options for those struggling with addiction.

Provisions within CARA, such as community-based anti-drug coalitions and a national education campaign, will help rebuild communities, deter young Americans from trying the drug, and stall the increase of addicts, overdoses and deaths.  This legislation will also establish alternative incarceration programs and outpatient treatment options for non-violent drug offenders, which would not only better serve individuals, but save significant taxpayer dollars.

The House of Representatives must move forward quickly in a bipartisan manner on the passage of CARA because the commonsense, bipartisan solutions in the bill offer a desperately needed lifeline to anyone suffering under the weight of addiction.

This issue touches the life of every American. It is imperative we pursue aggressive measures to stint its dangerous progression. Strong individuals make up strong families. Strong families make strong communities, and strong communities make for a stronger, more prosperous America. The time is now to end heroin and opioid addiction.

Sensenbrenner represents Wisconsin’s 5th Congressional District and has served in the House since 1979. He sits on the Judiciary and the Science, Space and Technology committees. Comstock has represented Virginia’s 10th Congressional District since 2015. She sits on the House Administration; the Science, Space and Technology; and the Transportation committees. 

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