Cole: The Opioid Crisis
By Congressman Tom Cole
There is a rampant health crisis that is destroying families and communities across our nation. Opioid addiction and drug overdoses have turned into a shocking epidemic that impacts people from all walks of life and every corner of our nation. We cannot stand idly by while this scourge steals the hopes and aspirations of our fellow citizens while simultaneously destroying entire communities.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), drug overdoses are the leading cause of death among Americans under 50, and opioids are by far the biggest contributor to this alarming fact. For those who aren’t familiar with the definition of opioids, they are a class of drugs that include legally prescribed medications such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine and morphine – just to name a few. When taken in short doses under the careful supervision of a health professional they serve a good purpose. However, many people become addicted and begin to procure these prescription drugs illegally through street dealers, unscrupulous doctors or pharmacists, or even by stealing them. The other substances under the term “opioids” include illegal heroin and fentanyl.
It is estimated that over fifty thousand Americans die each year by overdosing on drugs, almost 150 each day, and this number continues to grow. In response to this alarming statistic, there is a growing bipartisan consensus that this is an issue that must be treated with the utmost urgency. Last spring, President Trump established the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis. This summer, the Labor, Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee, of which I am Chairman, included $747 million dollars to address opioid and heroin abuse – $83 million above the White House request.
This epidemic is complex and crosses many demographic, criminal justice and health issues. It needs to be aggressively attacked on all three fronts. First, we need to recognize that this problem is urban, rural, suburban – you name it – it exists everywhere. As I travel through Oklahoma, I hear heart breaking stories about families, businesses, even entire neighborhoods being destroyed by this epidemic. Second, we need to start saving our fellow citizens by getting them access to the intervention, medications and technologies to help them break their addictions and integrate back into a healthy and productive life. And finally, we need crack down hard on the criminals who are supplying this poison. It shouldn’t matter if they are lurking in the shadows in a trench coat, or if they are illegally dispensing them wearing a lab coat. People who illegally supply these drugs must be stopped and must be punished.
To put it in perspective, if there were a deadly pandemic sweeping America and killing over 50,000 people a year, we would certainly make addressing it among our highest public health priorities. I submit that this deadly addiction, and the overdosing of opioids is every bit as critical and ought to be taken every bit as seriously.