One of the greatest threats to America today is the growing scourge of opioid abuse and addiction. As I travel around Eastern Washington, I hear the stories of heartbreak and tragedy. I hear it from health care providers and law enforcement who see it every day, from families and neighbors who live it every day, and even from my own staff.
Earlier this year, I met with Scott Meyers, a proud parent of three lovely girls. Scott told me the story of his daughter, Rachel. Rachel was caring, smart, loving, and one of those people who never met a stranger. She loved all creatures, excelled in sports, and was always looking out for the underdog. By age 14, Rachel was using drugs, later developing an addiction to prescription medication. Over the next four years, Scott tried everything he could to get his daughter the help she needed as she moved on to other drugs like heroin and meth.
Scott told me that still today, he often wakes up between 3:30 and 3:40 AM. That’s because it was 3:40 in the morning, Sunday, March 30, 12 days before Rachel’s 19th birthday, that he received a call he hoped would never come. Rachel was gone. She died that morning from an overdose of heroin and meth. He was heartbroken. As a parent, I struggle to put into words what he must have felt.
Later Scott told me, “My Rachel was a heroin user, but that was such a small part of who she was and what she was. She wanted to change, but it was a fight with the devil she could not win.”
As I’ve reflected on Rachel’s story, and on countless others, I’m reminded once again how important our work is. We must do everything we can to fight this crisis and what it is doing to our families, loved ones, friends and neighbors.
The American people called on us to act, and that’s what we’re doing. While we may come from different hometowns and different backgrounds, the People’s House is united in the common tragedy of opioid addiction.
In 2016, we got the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act signed into law, and over the past two weeks, we in the House have passed dozens of bills to continue to fight this crisis and provide resources to those who need them. Specifically, these bills target four areas of the opioid crisis to attack this problem from all directions.
First, we are improving access and providing resources for treatment and recovery programs. Earlier this spring, I toured Recovery Cafe in Spokane. They are doing great work to create a community for people who are in recovery from opioid or other addiction. No one can fight this battle alone – nor should they have to. Our bills are also providing incentives for enhanced care, coordination and innovation, and establishing comprehensive opioid recovery centers.
Next, we are focusing on prevention. In May, I introduced prevention legislation aimed specifically at seniors. My Protecting Seniors from Opioid Abuse Act of 2018 will combat the opioid crisis by expanding eligibility for Medication Therapy Management (MTM) services for Medicare beneficiaries who are at-risk for prescription drug abuse. MTM services will allow a pharmacist or other health professional to give beneficiaries a comprehensive review of all their medications and how they work, what side effects may occur, or if there might be interactions between drugs. Counseling like this has been shown to reduce the risk of addiction in at-risk populations. I was proud to see this legislation pass the House on Tuesday as part of the PASS Act (H.R. 5773).
Third, we are working to keep communities safe by providing resources for law enforcement, giving them the tools to get dangerous, illicit drugs out of our communities. Our legislation will also help authorities better intercept illicit drugs at international mail facilities and provides access to federal resources for local communities to aid in this effort.
Finally, we are leading on fighting dangerous synthetic drugs like fentanyl. By cracking down on foreign shipments of drugs and providing grants for local communities to combat fentanyl, we can help keep this and other synthetic drugs out of our country. Law enforcement and first responders here in Eastern Washington have been raising the alarm about the potency of fentanyl. Just a few milligrams of it can be lethal. By keeping fentanyl off our streets, we will save lives.
Addiction knows no race, color, creed or political party. It works to tear our communities apart, to tear our families apart. We can’t let it any longer. That’s why we’re taking action for Rachel and for so many others who continue to battle opioid addiction here in our community. You can find more information about these efforts by visiting opioidcrisis.gop.
Cathy McMorris Rodgers is the United States representative for the 5th Congressional District of Washington.
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