Friday, January 22, 2016

Lawmakers turn attention to opioid abuse

Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill
Drug abuse in the United States has become a growing threat, and Washington has taken notice.

Only a few sentences into his State of the Union address last week, President Obama cited “battling prescription drug abuse” as one issue in which a divided Congress might find bipartisan agreement.

In Missouri, that seems to have already begun.

On Tuesday, Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill led a field hearing in Jefferson City addressing what she termed an epidemic of opioid addiction in the United States.

Last week, Republican Sen. Roy Blunt spoke about the issue on the Senate floor, noting that the problem has especially grown among American veterans prescribed painkillers to deal with their service-related injuries.

News reports have pointed to the White House forming an interagency federal effort, headed by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, to look at the prescription drug and heroin problems in rural America.

A statistical starkness emerges from this. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report issued this month revealed “a 200 percent increase in the rate of overdose deaths involving opioids” between 2000 and 2014. In 2014, more than 47,000 drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States.

The CDC also pointed to 12,000 members of the Baby Boom generation dying from drug overdoses in 2013, a number that tops the deaths caused by car accidents or flu and pneumonia. The Aging Committee has taken on the issue because of the projection that, by 2020, 5.7 million Americans older than 50 will require treatment for substance abuse.

Opioids, such as Vicodin and OxyContin, serve as pain management drugs in many treatment regimens.

“Prescription drug abuse and heroin use is a major public health crisis that affects every community across this nation, and has unfortunately claimed the lives of many Americans,” McCaskill said at Tuesday’s hearing.

“Studies show that four out of five people who abused prescription opioids eventually transition to heroin as pills become too difficult or expensive to obtain. Today’s prescription opioid abuser could easily become tomorrow’s heroin user.”

Blunt, who chairs the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that deals with federal health-care programs, reinforced this, saying that the path between prescription drug abuse and heroin use has become well-traveled.

“We have made a new commitment to this issue with new programs that are targeted to combat opioid abuse ... with almost three times the investment that the country made before,” he told fellow senators. “This is truly becoming an epidemic, and we need to deal with that epidemic sooner rather than later.”

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Lawmakers turn attention to opioid abuse

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