US Rep. Evan Jenkins: Fighting back against drug addiction
The opioid crisis touches nearly every family in West Virginia, with too many lives lost to the disease of addiction. It’s an issue I hear about every day as your representative in Congress and one we must work together to change.
Here in the U.S. House of Representatives, we’re taking action to stop the spread of fentanyl, help people enter treatment, and ensure opioids are prescribed responsibly. A national crisis requires a national response, and I’ve helped pass more than 30 bills last week as the House focuses in on the opioid epidemic.
Fentanyl remains one of the very deadliest aspects of the opioid crisis – just a grain is enough to kill. Heroin is laced with unknown quantities of fentanyl, often resulting in deadly overdoses. In Huntington back in April, a raid led by federal, state and local officials took enough fentanyl off the streets to kill 250,000 people.
We all know fentanyl is only legal for controlled medical use, but drug traffickers have found a loophole. They change a fentanyl molecule or two and suddenly they have a new, unregulated drug. We’re closing that loophole in the Stop the Importation and Trafficking of Synthetic Analogues Act.
This bill, which I was proud to cosponsor, will allow the U.S. attorney general to quickly make new fentanyl derivatives illegal. Our law enforcement officials will be able to respond quicker to stop Chinese and Mexican drug traffickers and hold them accountable for peddling their poisons in our communities.
As we’re taking drugs off the streets, we must also make sure treatment options are available for people ready to start their path to recovery. In Congress, we’ve provided billions of dollars yearly for grants to recovery programs.
We’re expanding that by authorizing another $15 million a year to help support community-based, peer-delivered recovery programs. Many of the most successful recovery programs, like Recovery Point in West Virginia, use people in recovery to help counsel and mentor new enrollees, providing them unique mental support.
West Virginia and Appalachia have been hit particularly hard by the opioid crisis, and the rural nature of our state makes access to care and recovery programs that much harder. That’s why I was proud to help pass the Treating Barriers to Prosperity Act, which will help the Appalachian Regional Commission expand programs and grants for drug abuse prevention and recovery.
Finally, we’re working to make sure healthcare providers have the tools and guidance they need to prescribe opioids responsibly while also recognizing addiction risk factors.
Congressman David McKinley of West Virginia is a leader on this issue with his legislation, the Preventing Overdoses While in Emergency Rooms Act, which directs hospitals to develop protocols on discharging patients who had been treated for an opioid overdose. No patient who has recently overdosed should be sent home without a follow-up plan and resources for recovery options.
In West Virginia, we’ve also heard much about the story of Jessie Grubb, a West Virginia native who died of an opioid overdose. Jessie, who was in recovery, was prescribed 50 oxycodone pills after hip surgery and fatally overdosed the day after her discharge.
Had her medical records clearly stated that she had struggled with substance abuse, this tragedy could have been prevented. We’ve just passed Jessie’s Law, named in her memory, to set up a way for patients and doctors to better communicate about past opioid addiction.
If a patient consents, a note will be made on the patient’s medical history regarding a past opioid addiction, making sure that any pain management decisions will take this history into account. This information can help prevent tragic deaths and strengthens the relationship between the doctor and the patient.
The opioid crisis cannot be solved overnight, but we must keep fighting. Communities throughout West Virginia have come together to respond, and so our nation must do the same.
This is not a partisan issue; it is a human issue. Together, we can make a difference and defeat the opioid epidemic.