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ICYMI: We can’t arrest our way out of the opioid epidemic

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Washington, December 8, 2015 | comments

Congressman Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph took to the pages of The Detroit News this week to highlight the work the Energy and Commerce Committee is doing to address the growing opioid abuse epidemic. During the past year, the committee has held a number of hearings with experts, stakeholders, law inforcement, individuals in recovery, and family members of opioid abuse victims in order to identify problems with how opioid addiction is treated and ways we can help those in need.

Upton discusses results from the committee’s ongoing investigation as well as a number of bipartisan solutions to better treat those suffering from addiction.

The Detroit News

December 8, 2015

Upton: We can’t arrest our way out of opioid epidemic

Nearly every 12 minutes, someone dies of a drug overdose in the U.S. It is a sad reality that is playing out in Michigan and across the country, and every community has a tragic tale to tell. Addiction to drugs like Vicodin, OxyContin, and Percocet often progresses to heroin abuse, and the trend of growing deaths and injuries is cause for alarm. The figures and tragedies cannot be ignored, and Republicans and Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee are trying to do something about it.


The numbers paint a startling picture. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that nationally, nearly 260 million opioid prescriptions were written in 2012. According to the Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Americans consume 80 percent of the world’s prescription opioids, despite constituting just 4.6 percent of its population. Our country is in the midst of an opioid epidemic.


The committee’s investigation over the last year has included a series of hearings featuring over two-dozen witnesses with varying perspectives. Between hearings and numerous meetings with experts, stakeholders, individuals in recovery, and family members of opioid abuse victims, we have identified a number of problems with the way opioid addiction is addressed and highlighted ways to take action.


Federal policies toward opioid addiction have often overemphasized a law enforcement approach at the expense of public health. It is clear that this is a public health crisis and our strategy needs to reflect the complex dynamic between public health and criminal activity. We simply cannot arrest our way out of this epidemic. 


Opioid addiction is a chronic disease of the brain and can be treated. Unfortunately, only 10 percent of the 23 million people suffering from alcohol and drug addiction get any form of treatment. And of those who do get treatment, only 10 to 20 percent are getting evidence-based treatments shown to be effective in repeated studies. We also found that treatment for opioid addiction should be better integrated with primary health care to ensure optimal health outcomes.


Finally, the committee found that programs and services provided by addiction treatment centers frequently use acute individual treatment models in response to the chronic health problem of opioid addiction. Some patients with opioid addiction may need treatment for months or a few years, while others may need treatment for a lifetime. Furthermore, the availability of behavioral counseling, highly recommended for use in conjunction with medications, may be inadequate, if not absent altogether.


We can and must take steps to address these failures. I commend the Obama administration for its attention to this scourge. In March of this year the Department of Health and Human Services announced its roadmap to combat opioid abuse, proposing improvements to opioid prescribing practices, expanded use and distribution of overdose reversal drugs, and expansion of Medication-Assisted Treatment. And just last month, the administration announced new efforts, several of which mirrored recommendations witnesses provided to our committee during our hearing series over the last year. While these are important steps, there is much more we can do…


The Energy and Commerce Committee has begun to consider a number of bipartisan bills crafted around these solutions, but our work is just beginning. We owe this effort to the past, present, and sadly, future victims of the opioid epidemic – our neighbors, friends, and family, across every part of the country and every demographic group. Republicans and Democrats all have a responsibility to help those in our communities who are suffering with addiction….

Read the entire piece online here.

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