By Robert Pittenger
Today, roughly 100 Americans will lose their life to an opioid overdose.
Opioid and prescription drug abuse is ravaging our country and our local community. The Centers for Disease Control reports that opioid overdose deaths have increased over fivefold since 1999. In fact, drug overdoses are now the leading cause of injury death in the United States.
Here in North Carolina, 1,567 of our friends and neighbors died of an opioid overdose in 2015. Wilmington has the highest opioid abuse rate in the nation. Fayetteville, Jacksonville and Hickory are in the top 25.
These aren’t just statistics. We all know someone who has been personally impacted by the opioid crisis.
Yet, the addicts are not the only victims of this terrible epidemic. Families and friends suffer as they watch loved ones succumb to the horrors of addiction. Demand for prescription drugs and opioids draws organized crime from drug trafficking into our communities. Tragically, every year more than 20,000 babies are born with complications stemming from their mother’s opioid drug use during pregnancy.
In recent years, the crisis has grown exponentially worse largely due to the increased prevalence of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. Fentanyl is pouring into America through our open borders and even our postal system.
Combating the opioid epidemic has been a top concern of mine, as well as many of my House Republican colleagues.
Last year, I helped pass the Interdict Act, which seeks to stem the influx of fentanyl. This important legislation equips law enforcement with the most up-to-date chemical screening devices and scientific support so they can detect and intercept fentanyl and other synthetic opioids at the border, before the drugs reach our community.
While stopping the flow of fentanyl and other prescription drugs is critical to overcoming this crisis, we also need to provide ample resources for treatment and prevention programs.
This is why I co-sponsored and helped pass the 21st Century Cures Act, which includes $1 billion in state grants to combat the opioid epidemic. $15.5 million of the grant was released to North Carolina last year and additional funding should arrive this year.
Additionally, just a few weeks ago I helped pass the Bipartisan Budget Act, which includes $6 billion to combat the opioid epidemic. These much-needed resources will fund new state grants, prevention programs and law enforcement efforts.
President Trump recently declared the national opioid epidemic a public health emergency, devoting more resources and attention to fight the crisis on all possible fronts. In the coming months, I look forward to working with the President and his administration to address this epidemic and provide relief to the communities it has devastated.
North Carolina is home to over 700,000 veterans, with 50,000 living in our Congressional district. Sadly, far too many veterans have grown addicted to the prescription opioid drugs they were prescribed for injuries sustained in combat or in training.
My staff and I are working with local officials and institutions to provide relief to veterans struggling with addictions to opioids. The Fayetteville VA Medical Center has been extremely active in efforts to combat opioid abuse. Since 2012, the Fayetteville VA has reduced its opioid prescribing rate by roughly 65 percent.
By working together with President Trump, local governments, nonprofits, faith-based organizations and families, we can defeat the scourge of addiction in our communities.
Congressman Robert Pittenger (NC-09) is chairman of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare and vice chairman of the Subcommittee on Terrorism and Illicit Finance. He serves on the House Financial Services Committee, with a special focus on supporting small businesses, community banks and credit unions.