Drug abuse is killing more than pain

Heroin and prescription drug abuse is tearing families apart throughout South Carolina and across America. From 2013-2014 alone the Palmetto State saw a 118 percent rise in opioid-related deaths. In 2015 the Florence County Sheriff’s Office seized 3,339 percent more heroin than in 2012. In 2012 the Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office responded to 21 overdose calls; by 2015 that number more than tripled. Considered the most addictive substance in the world and cheaper than prescription narcotics, heroin is a plague on our communities that must be addressed.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the rate of heroin-related overdose deaths nearly quadrupled in the United States between 2002 and 2013. Research also shows that those who first abuse prescription drugs have a greater risk of trying and subsequently becoming addicted to heroin. Nearly 80 percent of heroin users reported using prescription opioids prior to heroin.

As too many families know, addiction does not discriminate. Each day, 46 Americans die from an overdose of prescription painkillers. To address this vicious cycle, I worked with my colleagues in Congress to pass 18 bills aimed at curbing prescription drug abuse.

Among the measures passed last week is the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery (CARA) Act, legislation I cosponsored that directs the Department of Health and Human Services to create an inter-agency task force to outline the best practices for pain management and develop a strategy to prevent the overprescription of pain medication.

Health care providers wrote 259 million prescriptions for painkillers in 2012 – the equivalent of a bottle of pills for every American adult. Worse, ten of the highest-prescribing states for painkillers are in the South, including South Carolina. This overprescribing has led to misuse of opioids and increased the likelihood these addictive drugs end up in the hands of children and teenagers. Already, we have seen heroin use in young adults more than double in the last decade. Heroin and prescription drug overdoses have surpassed car accidents and firearms as the leading cause of injury deaths. While South Carolina has taken actions at the state level to curb over-prescriptions, I am glad that this federal legislation seeks solutions with federal resources. Preventing youth from having easy access to prescription drugs is a necessary step in the fight against opioid abuse.

The CARA bill also expands educational efforts nationwide to create awareness about drug addiction and address the dangers associated with different types of medication. By implementing targeted education to everyone from veterans to young adults, we can spread awareness and help curb abuse for people in all walks of life.

In addition to the preventative measures included in this bill, Congress also acted to help save lives from heroin overdose before it’s too late. Naloxone is a life-saving drug administered to people during a narcotics overdose and has a very high success rate when used properly. CARA increases the amount of grants awarded for naloxone distribution to state and local law enforcement agencies so first responders can have access to this life-saving drug in times of emergencies.

I was pleased to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle in order to combat the opioid epidemic. Through increased education, a detailed plan on how to address and limit over-prescription of opioids, and increased access to life-saving naloxone, fewer lives will be cut short from drug overdose.

After passing with strong bipartisan support, these measures will now go to formal conference committee with the Senate. This is a step in the right direction, but we still have a long way to go.