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Responding to the opioid crisis

September 26, 2018

A mother from Omaha recently called my Washington D.C. office to share her son’s heart-wrenching story of opioid addiction. After a football injury sent him to the hospital, he was prescribed with an excessive amount of pills to keep his pain from creeping back. Her son now battles an addiction to these opioids and attempts to ween him off just haven’t worked.

Another mother from Scottsbluff recently shared with me that her son passed away from an opioid overdose and her daughter now suffers from the same addiction. She said the lack of prevention resources and treatment options available in western Nebraska strain her daughter’s ability to recover.

It breaks my heart to hear from Nebraskans who are fighting addiction or have lost their loved ones to an overdose. I listen to these devastating experiences far too often from families on the frontlines of this battle.

Tragically, this crisis knows no bounds. This disease has spread to every corner of our country and continues to destroy the lives of parents, spouses, teenagers and children. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, 128 Nebraskans lost their lives to a drug overdose in 2016, with 38 of those deaths resulting from opioid overdoses.

Unfortunately, these statistics are amplified throughout the nation. According to a Center for Disease Control estimate, about 72,000 Americans died from drug overdoses last year. A majority of these fatal overdoses were the result of prescription opioids and illegal drugs such as fentanyl or heroin.

It’s been widely reported that we are facing the largest drug crisis in our nation’s history. I believe the way to beat this epidemic is to bring local, state, and federal resources together and meet this crisis with a historic response.

In 2016, both parties worked together to pass the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) which authorized funding to states in order to bolster efforts to reduce opioid deaths and provided law enforcement with advanced training and resources. Congress also passed the 21st Century Cures Act that cut red tape and sent $1 billion in grant funding to states to fight the epidemic. Nebraska has received two $2 million grants under this program, one in 2017 and the other in 2018.

But as this affliction rages on, we have to keep up our fight. We have to do more to end this crisis and save lives. Recently I was proud to vote for the bipartisan Opioid Crisis Response Act. This legislation will reauthorize $500 million in grant funding through fiscal years 2019-2021.

The Opioid Crisis Response Act will attack this epidemic from all sides. It will help states improve treatment, provide training to more health professionals, and expand prevention programs that were created by 21st Century Cures.

Many times, an opioid drug use disorder provides a gateway into an addiction to illicit drugs. This legislation includes a provision, the Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act, that will close loopholes and stop illegal drugs like fentanyl from entering our country.

Senate passage of the Opioid Crisis Response Act is a hopeful step forward for Nebraskans and all Americans. Opioid addiction and overdoses are a devastating aspect of our current lives. I am fully committed to this fight and will continue working to ensure this epidemic will not become part of our future.

Thank you for participating in the democratic process. I look forward to visiting with you again next week.

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