Viewpoint

The epidemic of opioid addiction

Democratic senators, led by Chuck Schumer of New York, call on Senate Republicans this month to support the passage of emergency funding in addition to legislation to tackle the prescription opioid and heroin crisis.
Democratic senators, led by Chuck Schumer of New York, call on Senate Republicans this month to support the passage of emergency funding in addition to legislation to tackle the prescription opioid and heroin crisis. Getty Images

There’s a sobering reality confronting North Carolina and the rest of the nation: addiction to opioids has been skyrocketing and is now at the point of being a full-blown epidemic.

In 2014, 1,358 North Carolinians died from drug overdoses. To put that into context, it’s more than the number of North Carolinians who died in automobile accidents.

For far too long, the conventional thinking was that drug addiction was a choice made by criminals who are already intent on destroying the lives of themselves and others.

However, we now know that couldn’t be further from the truth. Drug addiction doesn’t discriminate based on one’s gender, race, or socio-economic status. There are CEOs of companies, straight-A students, and PTA parents who have suffered from opioid addiction. It’s having crippling consequences in our inner cities and suburbs, while also wreaking havoc in the tight-knit communities of our rural areas.

That’s because the nightmare of addiction can begin with something as unassuming as a routine prescription for a painkiller like Oxycontin or Percocet. Due to the highly addictive nature of these drugs, their bodies can become dependent and they experience debilitating withdrawal symptoms without them. Once the prescription runs out, that physical addiction can unfortunately influence people to make decisions they otherwise would never have contemplated – seeking more pills on the black market when their doctor says “no more,” or turning to cheaper and deadlier opioid drugs like heroin.

Our country needs better coordination from federal, state, and local law enforcement to develop comprehensive strategies to combat heroin trafficking and prevent prescription drug diversion. Federal dollars and resources come with so much red tape that state and local experts can’t use that funding for initiatives that are working the best or are most needed.

Thankfully, members of Congress are setting aside their partisan differences to take action. The Senate will soon begin debating the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act. It is groundbreaking legislation that brings together the experiences and recommendations of drug addiction experts, law enforcement, health care providers, first responders, and those most affected by the opioid epidemic.

The legislation expands abuse prevention and educational initiatives. It provides grants to substance abuse agencies, local governments, and non-profit organizations in areas in North Carolina and the rest of the nation that are being hit the hardest by heroin and painkiller abuse. Local first responders will receive help through the expanded availability of naxalone, a powerful antidote that is used to prevent overdose deaths.

The legislation also addresses the burden the addiction crisis places on our criminal justice system by providing more resources to identify and treat incarcerated Americans, helping put them on the path to recovery, which in turn could lower the nation’s recidivism and crime rates.

Our nation needs smart, commonsense approaches such as the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act. However, we must be honest in recognizing that success will be neither quick nor easy. Addiction is a vicious and devastating cycle of abuse and despair. It affects us all. The fight against addiction is one we must wage together, and one we cannot afford to lose.

Tillis is a Republican U.S. senator from North Carolina.

  Comments