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Martha McSally: More to be done on opioid crisis

July 31, 2018

When he was 16 years old, Wayne Warner had his ring and pinky finger severed from his left hand and was prescribed narcotics to take when he “needed” to manage the pain. Pretty quickly, Wayne became addicted and ultimately settled on heroin as his drug of choice. He found himself homeless, jobless, and nearly lifeless. Following an arrest and jail time, Wayne found healing and hope and is now married, has his first baby and serves as the Dean of Men at the Teen Challenge Christian Life Ranch in New River, Arizona.

Unfortunately, many people aren’t as fortunate as Wayne. 116 Americans die every single day from an opioid overdose. These victims come from all walks of life - they are teachers, business professionals, ranchers, students, retirees and government officials. Here in Arizona there have been at least 1,200 lives lost this year alone. Additionally, some estimates suggest more than two million Americans are currently addicted to opioids. So many loved ones gone; so much damage to productivity, relationships, and more. I bet nearly all of us knows someone who has or is struggling with opioid addiction right now.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 50.5 percent of people who misused prescription painkillers got them from a friend or relative. 22.1% were overprescribed pain medication by a doctor. Once addicted, many go to illicit drugs which can be cheaper and easier to acquire but can be laced or consist of deadly potency.

An unsecure border also fuels and exacerbates this opioid crisis. It is well known that the overwhelming majority of hard drugs, as high as 90 percent, that enter our country come in through the nation’s ports of entry such as the ones in Nogales, Yuma, and Douglas. During my time in Congress, I have worked extensively to bolster border security, modernize AZ port of entry infrastructure, increase drug detection technology, and fix the personnel shortages at our southern border ports.

As the Chairwoman of the Border and Maritime Security Subcommittee on the House Homeland Security Committee, I recently convened a hearing in Arizona to highlight the illicit pathways that drugs enter our country and identify solutions to save lives. The following day, I hosted Homeland Security Secretary Nielsen in both Douglas and Nogales to show her the unique challenges that we face at the border and ports of entry in Arizona.

We must also tackle this crisis with treatment and recovery options that help restore individuals to health and break the cycle of addiction. This requires a whole-of-society response to increase access to prevention, treatment, and recovery support services. Earlier this year, Congress passed a two-year budget deal that included $6 billion to help fight the opioid epidemic and provide resources for mental health reform. I wrote a letter to the House Appropriations Committee requesting that communities with the highest per-capita overdose mortality rates, as well as tribal and rural areas, such as Mohave County, are targeted for this funding. Following my letter, the House Appropriations Committee followed through on my request.

In the past few weeks, we have passed 70 bills in the U.S. House of Representatives addressing the opioid crisis at all levels. These bills will help to make sure that it is standard medical practice to educate patients on the risks of taking properly prescribed opioids, will hold accountable doctors who unethically prescribe these medications, and most of all, provide support to those who suffer from addiction, their families, and loved ones – to ensure that they can get the help they so desperately need.

We can’t stop there.

That’s why this week I introduced the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) Best Practices Act which will enhance the current network of PDMPs — one of the most promising tools in stopping the opioid epidemic. PDMPs are electronic databases that track opioid prescriptions in a state. PDMPs keep controlled substances out of the wrong hands by alerting law enforcement when a doctor over prescribes pain medication or when someone attempts to refill their opioid prescription at multiple pharmacies. I believe that every state should develop its own PDMP program and coordinate with county officials and local governments on how to best implement this lifesaving program.

The opioid epidemic is a complex and multifaceted problem with no quick, or easy solution. But the fight against this enemy is one we must win. As a conservative, I believe the federal government has a limited but important role, in partnership with state and local governments, non-profits, faith-based initiatives, civic society, communities and families to prevent addiction, provide a path to healing, and save precious lives. I will continue to lead and fight for solutions like securing our border and this new legislation to help lower opioid overdoses in Mohave County and help Arizonans across the state live full lives free from the horrors of addiction.

Martha McSally has served as the U.S. Representative for Arizona’s 2nd congressional district since 2015. She is running for U.S. Senate.

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