The opioid epidemic has countless names used to define it. You could call it a widespread pandemic, a national crisis, or rampant prescription drug abuse. Whatever you call it, the reality is that opioid addiction is tragically taking the lives of almost 100 Americans daily. The opioid epidemic is sweeping the nation and we cannot ignore it. It is a national problem. The question is, how do we remedy a problem that affects people of every race, age, income level and every geographic part of our country?
By the numbers, the opioid epidemic is one of the deadliest to ever affect our citizens. In 2015, more than 52,000 people died of a drug overdose, making it the leading cause of accidental death that year. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, 259 million opioid prescriptions were written in 2012 — enough for every adult in America to have their own bottle of opioids. In 2014, nearly 2 million Americans admitted to struggling with prescription opioid abuse or being dependent on their prescribed opioids. One study predicts that if we don’t act soon, the rate of drug overdose will increase drastically and more than a half a million lives will be lost over the next decade due to drug overdose.
In a nation where we vaccinate our children for preventable diseases like polio, enjoy the modern marvels of technology and have arguably the greatest opportunity for scientific innovation in the world, shouldn’t we be able to find a solution to help those affected by the opioid epidemic? I believe that Congress should take action now to reduce the number of controlled substances prescribed to patients and effectively save lives.
Congress has the unique ability to pass legislation to limit the impact of overprescribing opioids from the start, so that Americans have a better chance of limiting the harmful effects of addiction. Alongside Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), I introduced H.R. 3528, the Every Prescription Conveyed Securely (EPCS) Act to help combat opioid abuse by mandating electronic prescriptions (e-prescriptions) for all controlled substances under Medicare. The EPCS Act would require all prescribers to input controlled substances into an electronic health record, which creates the opportunity for states to monitor and track the use of opioids. This would cut down drastically on the amount of opioids given to patients, as doctors nationwide would be able to see the prescription history of their patients and more importantly, the last time they were prescribed opioids.
The EPCS Act would work in tandem with the prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP), a statewide program that assesses the output of controlled substances. Fifty-two states and territories, including my home state of Oklahoma, utilize a PDMP in order to keep track of the controlled substances being prescribed to patients. However, these programs do not keep patients from doctor shopping across state lines, and certain state laws for PDMPs have limitations. By creating a uniform, reliable and nationwide electronic record of each patient’s past prescriptions, doctors can more accurately diagnose where opioids are being used properly and where they may be overprescribing controlled substances.
While this may not cure the opioid epidemic entirely, this legislation is an important step in the right direction to limit the number of controlled substances doled out daily, while ensuring that those who legitimately need these drugs continue to have access to them. With continued efforts by medical professionals, scientists, researchers and elected officials, it is my hope that we can start to see the steady decline of drug overdoses in our communities. The time to reverse the trend of opioid drug overdoses is now.
Mullin represents Oklahoma’s 2nd District and is a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee.