Sen. McConnell, stop politicizing the opioid crisis


The good news: Congress is finally considering legislation that will help end the national opioid crisis. The bad news: All they’re doing is considering it. As activists work with local leaders to push forward legislation that would save hundreds of thousands of lives, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is stalling. Why? Perhaps because he’s forgotten that people with substance use disorder are constituents, too.

McConnell is saying that he’s going to delay a vote on the bipartisan legislation that passed overwhelmingly in the House last month. More than 50 bills, which address issues from opioid misuse to overdoses, are an important first step in addressing this crisis. The legislation- H.R. 6, the Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment (SUPPORT) for Patients and Communities Act- includes bills on access to naloxone, an anti-overdose medication; ensuring access to quality sober living; alternatives to opioids in the Emergency Department; and preventing overdoses in Emergency Rooms.

{mosads}We worked together to draft the sober living bill last fall, after Ryan’s friend Tyler overdosed and died in his sober living home. There was no one on staff of the sober home who was trained in recognizing the signs of an overdose, and Tyler paid the price for this oversight. What’s worse, is that Tyler’s case is not unique. Sober living homes, or recovery residences, are largely unregulated, and it can be difficult for those in recovery and their families to differentiate the good actors from the bad. The bill I introduced, H.R. 4684, would provide best practices for sober living homes, such as requiring naloxone training and providing anti-overdose medication on-site. The bill passed the House of Representatives unanimously, with overwhelming bipartisan support. It’s clear that people on both sides of the aisle are ready to support a solution to this problem—and they don’t want to delay.

But instead of acting now, Leader McConnell wants to stall the vote until further notice. But this will hurt the lives of hundreds of constituents—people just like Tyler. And this is not an issue we can wait on. There is no time to waste.

The opioid crisis is a national health epidemic that affects one in three families. Sixty six percent of the country’s overdose deaths in 2016 were caused by opioids, and that number is only increasing. Hundreds of people die of drug related causes every day. The bundled bills represent hope for these people. We have a responsibility to represent their interests, instead of treating them and their families like second class citizens.

For every person who overdoses, there are thousands more who are suffering. They’re trying to stay alive. They’re waiting for treatment, housing, peer recovery support. By sidelining this important legislation, McConnell and Senate Republicans are increasing the number of empty chairs at our family tables or the bedrooms that parents leave untouched.

Those people have names. All of them are missed, every day, by families who are calling for solutions that will end the crisis, and which could have saved their loved ones’ lives. The people we’ve lost are more than just political talking points.

Every four minutes, someone dies of an overdose. By the time the Senate votes, we will have buried another 40,000 people. Count them: 40,000 final text messages. 40,000 empty beds, with the covers still rumpled. 40,000 single shoes, left in the hallway where someone’s going to trip on them. 40,000 prescription pill bottles, spoons and baggies.

Leader McConnell, we pushed to get this legislation to the floor of the Senate, and now you are delaying. This bill will not completely solve the crisis, but it can save lives. It is the first step in a long journey towards helping the millions of Americans impacted by addiction every day. And this journey will require even more investment in public health resources, like Medicaid. But we cannot make progress if we don’t take that first step. Every day, the death toll rises. In every county in our nation, Americans are dying.

We can’t bring back the people we love. But we can take steps to stem the tide of future deaths.

The opioid crisis is a moral emergency. Let’s finish the job we started and pass the legislation that will save thousands of lives now.

Chu represents California’s 27th District in the U.S. House of Representatives. Hampton is a nationally acclaimed recovery advocate, author, and person in recovery from heroin addiction. His book, “American Fix: Inside the Opioid Addiction Crisis – and How to End It” is being released by St. Martin’s Press in August.

Tags Mitch McConnell Opioids

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