As someone prone to hyperbole, the president’s remarks at a press conference last week might be easy to dismiss as an exaggeration. But, despite swift backlash on social media and expected partisan sniping, there is a fair amount of truth to statement.
The reality is, illicit drugs are incredibly inexpensive. Federal data shows that the price per-gram of heroin, cocaine, and meth has been plummeting since the 1980s. The president’s bold claim correctly described the opioid epidemic; in many parts of our nation, the price of opioids is equivalent to the price of candy bars.
As partisan battles rage in Washington at the onset of a new administration, a struggle in our own communities quietly, and lethally, continues. You might not see it on CNN or in your Twitter feed, but I am reminded every time I drive past the Levittown-Fairless Hills Rescue Squad where a grim tallies shows the number of overdoses and deaths already in this young year.
Sadly, this crisis shows no signs of slowing. Last year in Bucks County, we lost 185 lives to opioids -- a 50-percent increase from the prior year. In neighboring Montgomery County, opioid abuse claimed a staggering 240 lives -- one of the highest counties in the state with opioid-related deaths. Nationally, heroin deaths have risen sharply and now surpass 30,000 a year, with each fatality representing a family crushed by the overwhelming loss of a loved one.
A solution is possible, but only if we are willing to work together. Constant engagement between federal, state, and local leaders partnering with law enforcement, healthcare professionals, and educators will set us on the path to free our community from the creeping advance of opioid abuse. My staff and I are entirely committed to supporting Pennsylvania and local municipalities in their efforts to address this crisis.
While passage of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) and 21st Century Cures during the 114th Congress were monumental in countering the crisis, there is no silver bullet. We must continue to press the issue from all sides.
One way would be innovating Prescription Drug Management Programs (PDMPs) as a method of reducing prescription drug abuse and diversion. The legislative proposals I’m exploring would improve antiquated systems to make our federal statutes more responsive to the current crisis by empowering PDMPs to collect, monitor, and analyze electronically transmitted prescribing and dispensing data by physicians and pharmacies. By integrating these state programs, physicians would be provided real time data to make clinical decisions at the point of care when prescribing Schedule II controlled substances to new patients. Like the success of the National Precursor Log Exchange, real-time electronic logging system used by pharmacies and law enforcement agencies to track sales of over-the-counter cold and allergy medications, PDMPs could be modeled to provide these innovative technologies for Schedule II controlled substances under the Controlled Substances Act.
As part of the CARA package, the Government Accountability Office will publish a report by July 2017 on the impact the current Medicaid Institutions for Mental Disease (IMD) Exclusion has on access to treatment for individuals with substance abuse disorders. The most vulnerable populations should have adequate substance abuse and mental health provisions in their Medicaid benefits and I will work with my colleagues to ensure that based on findings of the report, funds are responsibly distributed for success.
As a former FBI Supervisory Special Agent and current member of the Homeland Security Committee, I am well positioned to explore the connection between border control and combating Pennsylvania’s opioid epidemic. Reports from annual US seizures show that Mexico dominates Latin American opium cultivation and heroin production so this month, I questioned Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly on border security.
He believes that there exists a direct connection between border security and opioid proliferation. While our troops already coordinate with the Mexican government on anti-drug efforts, we both agree that more action is needed to prevent the flow of drugs and money before they enter the United States. I am committed to deterring those who would peddle these deadly drugs by strengthening law enforcement efforts and stiffening laws for heroin distributors.
We are all stakeholders in the mission to eradicate this epidemic -- be it through education, community involvement, recovery efforts or law enforcement support. As an independent voice in Congress, I am working to protect our families, and free our communities from this menace.