While overdose death rates appear to be trending downward, it is not a significant enough decrease – nor the proper time – to pull back on efforts addressing drug interdiction, treatment and recovery issues, three members of the U.S. House of Representatives told participants of the Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit.
“We have seen progress over the past three decades,” said Congressman Earl “Buddy” Carter (GA-1st), noting overdose deaths had decreased 4.6 percent in 2018, the latest data available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While this is good, “it is not good enough,” he added.
It would be “dangerous” to say a slight decrease in overdose deaths is a sign that we are winning the battle, and for legislators to “check the box” and move forward, agreed Congressman David Trone (MD-6th). “We can’t lose sight of the opioid epidemic.”
Each of the presenters praised the efforts of Representative Harold “Hal” Rogers (KY-5th), whose early and persistent leadership on substance abuse issues has sparked the Congress into taking action.
The Congressmen noted that the U.S. House of Representatives has authorized billions of dollars, through dozens of bills, to address various aspects of the crisis. This legislation includes strengthening workforce training, loosening restrictions on providing tele-health medicine, delivering comprehensive treatment modalities – with increased focus on mental health issues – enabling prevention initiatives, strengthening interdiction of drugs entering the United States, identifying drug diversion, and supporting recovery efforts.
Congressman Tom Cole (OK-4th) said he is frequently asked if this high level of spending is having an effect. “I think it is,” he added. “[We are] bending the curve in a positive way.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has complicated addiction treatment and recovery. “Recovery requires a community,” Trone stated, “and our communities are strained when we can’t interact with each other.”
One aspect of treatment and recovery that needs to be more fully addressed are needs of the loved ones dealing with a substance use disorder. “So often the families get left behind,” Trone stated, noting he speaks from experience in navigating “a complicated system” following the overdose death of a nephew.
“We need everyone’s help to maintain focus and momentum,” Trone said. “We need your support and your ideas.”
The Rx Drug Abuse & Heroin Summit is the perfect forum to “capture legislators’ attention,” Cole stated.
“Know we are standing with you,” added Carter. “You’re the boots on the ground, and you are making a significant difference.”