Pushing Congress to act before more lives are lost to the opioid and heroin epidemic

I would like to update you on my efforts to combat the growing prescription opioid and heroin epidemic. Each day, our country continues to confront rising drug abuse impacting every segment of society, and stealing away a staggering number of young and old Americans alike. On Wednesday morning, I stood in front of the House of Representatives for the second time in just over a month to demand that Congress begin to treat this epidemic like the public health crisis it has become.

Congressman Courtney speaks on the House floor about the growing prescription opioid 
 and heroin epidemic — Click here to watch the video

The chart I used during the speech graphically depicts how more people are being lost to heroin and opioid overdoses each year. As shown below, in 2004 the Centers for Disease Control estimates that around 7,500 Americans lost their lives to an opioid related overdose. Tragically, just ten years later in 2014 that number had grown to over 27,000, as the second map shows.

The chart Congressman Courtney used during his recent speech shows that 7,500 people died of opioid related drug overdoses in 2004. By 2014, the number had grown to around 27,000.

Here in Connecticut, ninety-percent of towns in 2014 lost residents to opioid related overdoses, totaling some 623 deaths across our state that year. That number sadly increased by almost 20% in 2015, when 723 people died from drug overdoses involving heroin, fentanyl, opioids, and other drugs such as morphine. While data for 2016 is not yet available, we have every reason to suspect the number of drug overdoses will continue to rise following this trend.

As I made clear in my speech, this crisis is affecting every segment of our country, whether it’s rural, suburban or urban. It affects Republican districts, and it affects Democratic districts. It is time for our nation to recognize that this is an epidemic which needs to be treated the same way we would any natural disaster, or public health emergency.

Just moments after my speech on Wednesday, Speaker Paul Ryan announced that the House will be taking up the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) which was passed by the Senate last month. CARA expands prevention and education efforts, along with expanding the availability of naloxone and safe-disposal sites, among other things. I applaud this news because I believe CARA is an important step forward in our federal policy toward treating this as a healthcare issue, rather than solely as a law enforcement issue.

Unfortunately, even with all of the good policy proposals contained in CARA, the bill does not provide a single penny of emergency aid which our police departments, addiction treatment programs, and community health centers are begging to receive. It should be noted that President Obama has also proposed $1.1 billion in new funding to address the crisis in his 2017 budget request to Congress, but even this would not provide any new funding until next year.

What we need is for Congress to provide emergency funding to tackle this problem before it continues to spread through our society like a cancer. We need to get resources into the hands of first responders and medical professionals who have the ability to make a difference right now. That’s why I have introduced a bill in Congress, along with Senator Jean Shaheen from New Hampshire, that would make $600 million in emergency funding available this year to address both the law enforcement and the public health aspects of the opioid epidemic.

My bill would provide this funding for the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice to fund a range of programs aimed at treating the public health emergency brought on by drug addiction, as well as funding law enforcement efforts to end the illegal drug trade. My legislation, if passed tomorrow, would make funds available immediately to launch a genuine national effort which could turn the tide against rising opioid and heroin abuse.

There is no time to waste in bringing to bear all the resources we can muster to stop this epidemic of drug abuse before even more people are hurt or killed. If you have questions or comments regarding my efforts, I would encourage you to contact my Washington office through my website, or by calling: 202–225–2076.

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