More needs to be done to address addiction in US

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This month marks the 25th anniversary of National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month, and over the last 25 years, we have taken important steps to help the millions of Americans who struggle with addiction. 

Many states and municipalities have established drug courts that help nonviolent drug offenders get treatment and avoid jail time. Local police departments are equipping officers with naloxone, which can be used to immediately treat individuals suffering from an opiate overdose. And communities are increasingly recognizing addiction as a disease, treatable with a combination of medication and behavioral health counseling 

These are important and commendable efforts. But more and more of our fellow citizens are falling victim to the scourge of addiction — particularly from heroin, prescription pain medications and other opiates. Also, more and more, the stigma of addiction is abating, and the premise of recovery is more accepted. 

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We believe the time is ripe for a comprehensive approach to prevent addiction in those at risk; to reserve punishment for those who truly deserve it; to give hope to those who have lost it; and to further destigmatize the brave path from addiction to recovery. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more Americans die every day from drug overdoses than from car accidents — an average of 110 people per day. In Rhode Island, more than 100 people have died from drug overdoses already this year. In Ohio, the state’s Department of Health estimates that five people die every day from a drug overdose. 

These are our husbands and wives, sons and daughters, friends and neighbors.  They are all too often veterans, women and adolescents. And right now the assistance available to them is woefully insufficient. According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, approximately 22.7 million Americans needed treatment for substance use in 2013, but only 2.5 million received it.

We can do better. That’s why today we are introducing the bipartisan Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2014. From prevention efforts to law enforcement strategies, to addressing overdoses and expanding evidence-based treatment, to supporting those who are in recovery — we want to help communities pursue all of these proven strategies, not just one or two.

Our bill would expand efforts to prevent the abuse of opioids and heroin and to promote treatment and recovery. It would expand resources to identify and treat incarcerated individuals suffering from addiction by providing evidence-based treatment proven to reduce recidivism. And it would encourage states to support recovery for, and remove harmful barriers to, individuals walking the brave but thorny path from addiction to recovery. This comprehensive approach gets law enforcement and public health communities on the same page, to stop and reverse current trends.

We believe this will make a real difference both for victims of addiction and for American communities. Getting clean and staying clean enables former addicts to contribute to our economy and our society in ways they might not otherwise; and reducing drug abuse can help us all feel safer on our streets, behind the wheel and in our homes. Those are goals we can all support.

Whitehouse is Rhode Island’s junior senator, serving since 2007. He sits on the Budget, Environment and Public Works, and Judiciary committees. Portman is Ohio’s junior senator, serving since 2011. He sits on the Budget, Finance, Energy and Natural Resources, and  Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committees.