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The opioid crisis cannot take any more lives

By Phil Roe, M.D.
U.S. State Representative
1st District of Tennessee

The opioid epidemic affects Tennesseans from all walks of life, no matter their race, gender, socioeconomic status, geographic location or background. In 2016, drug-related overdoses, driven in large part by opioids, claimed more lives than car wrecks. One thing is clear: we must continue fighting drug abuse at every level, using every available resource. We must ensure opioids are prescribed responsibly, and that medical facilities have the resources needed to fight opioid abuse and overdoses. According to the Tennessee Department of Health, at least 3 people die each day in Tennessee from an opioid-related drug overdose, and the number of deaths has continued to increase each year.

With that said, I’m very proud Tennessee is taking steps to address this serious issue across our state. While there is no silver bullet, there are programs, proposals and legislation being considered and ultimately implemented that will make substantial progress on addressing this epidemic. For example, Governor Bill Haslam’s plan – Tennessee Together – will allocate about $30 million to help combat the opioid epidemic in Tennessee by limiting the amount of opioids prescribed; increasing resources for treatment and recovery services; and ensuring law enforcement officials are better able to track, monitor and penalize the use and unlawful distribution of these addictive drugs.

There’s no question more needs to be done. For this reason, last year, I partnered with Reps. Kuster (D-N.H.) and MacArthur (R-N.J.) to introduce H.R. 3964, the Opioid Addiction and Prevention Act. This bill will limit an initial post-acute opioid prescription to no more than a 10-day supply. This legislation would still allow states to establish more limited timeframes for these prescriptions and would not have any impact on patients who use opioids for the regular management of chronic pain – including patients who have been diagnosed with cancer or are receiving end-of-life treatment. I believe this bill will help curb the opioid epidemic and ensure the responsible management of pain during a patient’s recovery.

Also, just last week, I joined Rep. Suozzi (D-N.Y.) to introduce H.R. 5298, the Modernizing Drug Enforcement Act, legislation to give the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) the tools they need to stay ahead of synthetic opioids which are helping to fuel this crisis. This legislation would pre-emptively reclassify drugs or other substances that act as opioids – such as synthetic fentanyl – as Schedule I narcotics based on their chemical structure and function. Currently, the DEA has to wait for producers to develop new opioid-like substances and then move administratively to have it classified under Schedule I, a process that can take up to a year and gives producers the upper hand. This bill will give law enforcement in a better position in trying to keep these deadly drugs off our streets, which will help further curtail substance abuse in our nation and in East Tennessee.

In Congress this week, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce is holding the second of three legislative hearings to examine the opioid crisis and possible bipartisan, legislative solutions. Over two days, the Committee will be considering 25 bipartisan bills aimed at addressing the epidemic. This is happening on the heels of President Trump unveiling his plan to combat the opioid crisis in New Hampshire this week. I look forward to reviewing the president’s proposal in full, and I am proud our president is taking a strong stance to fight such a devastating crisis that has affected so much of our nation.

I am encouraged by the work of President Trump, my colleagues in Congress and leaders in our state as we work together to fight this deadly epidemic.

Please never hesitate to reach out to my office with questions or concerns. And as always, feel free to contact my office if I can be of assistance to you or your family.

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