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Battling Opioid Addiction Requires a Holistic Approach

Jun 18, 2018
Op-Ed

WASHINGTON—This op-ed by Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) was first published by the Gainesville Times on June 18, 2018.

Over the last five years, Americans have seen a dramatic rise in home invasions. The numbers rose slowly and steadily from 2000 to 2013 and skyrocketed from there through 2016, when the same menace claimed 20,145 lives in 12 months. 

The intruder has made its way into communities in every corner of every state. It’s called fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that stole into countless families, widening the wake of damage left by other opiates like heroin. Together, opioids ended the lives of at least 1,395 Georgians in 2016.

I recently visited an inpatient treatment center in Sautee Nacoochee that serves people across our region and navigates the intersections of substance abuse and mental health treatment. While I’m grateful for the hope that private initiatives like this offer people who are living under the shadow of opioid abuse, working with local law enforcement, churches and mental health experts has strengthened my conviction that Congress must combat this epidemic proactively. 

My colleagues on the House Judiciary Committee share this resolve, and we worked together to send the Stop the Importation and Trafficking of Synthetic Analogues Act to the full House of Representatives for a vote. For those on the front lines, one of the most vexing realities of the opioid crisis is that cartels constantly engineer new synthetic drugs in order to skirt U.S. laws. 

Many of these criminal opioid labs operate out of Mexico and China and tweak their recipes to create new drugs whose molecular structures don’t yet appear on the United States’ list of scheduled substances. These copycats are often deadlier than the opioids they mimic, yet the illicit drug suppliers launch them into American neighborhoods with abandon.

These criminals accelerate the devastation felt by Northeast Georgians who have battled or watched their loved ones struggle with opioid abuse. Opioids can steal the futures of young athletes whose injuries open the door to addiction, which the illegal synthetics perpetuate. At the same time, we see seniors suffering from chronic pain become increasingly vulnerable to opioid abuse. Opioid traffickers target men, women and children with impunity and without distinction.

The SISTA Act would stem the rush of synthetic compounds into neighborhoods by providing law enforcement with appropriate tools and allowing them to declare new drugs illegal if they mirror the makeup of substances that are already prohibited. The bill would also make it easier for the Department of Health and Human Services to study fentanyl copycats and fight their effects.

On June 15, the House passed the SISTA Act, taking the biggest strides yet toward defeating the criminal drug makers who target our communities. But there’s more we can do.

I’ve seen how opioid addiction has in some way touched the lives of nearly everyone, and I believe we should withhold compassionate help from no one. For that reason, I recently introduced the Substance Abuse Prevention Act, which takes a holistic approach to addressing the complex opioid crisis. The bill takes the crucial step of increasing collaboration among federal, state and local law enforcement officers who are fighting the tide of opioid trafficking. 

It also supports addiction recovery efforts. I’ve seen drug courts in Georgia help people break free from dependence and lessen the strain on the justice system, and this bill lays the groundwork for drug courts to continue receiving vital funding. It authorizes local addiction prevention programs, provides resources to support families grappling with a loved one’s opioid abuse and reauthorizes the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy, as President Donald Trump supports efforts to end opioid addiction across America. 

In October 2017, the Trump Administration declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency, and the president has since launched a public service campaign — his first in office — to educate youth about the dangers of opioids. Together, President Trump and Republicans on Capitol Hill have dedicated nearly $4 billion to fighting this epidemic. 

Reversing the opioid epidemic requires us to invest in education, prevention and treatment. Last week alone, Republicans in the House passed 39 bills to equip medical professionals to thoughtfully treat patients, help addicts heal and prevent other individuals from stumbling into the path of addiction to prescription pain medicine, fentanyl or heroin. 

Opioid abuse is our common enemy, and hope rooted in meaningful action remains our common commitment.