Senator Combats Opioid Addiction Through a Landmark Bill
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Senator Combats Opioid Addiction Through a Landmark Bill


Senator Combats Opioid Addiction Through a Landmark LawAs opioid addiction continues to indiscriminately ravage American lives, ripping apart families and routing communities, it’s easy to worry that there’s no hope in sight. After all, the statistics aren’t exactly sunny. In 2014 alone, almost 30,000 Americans died from opioid overdoses. That’s about 80 people every single day who overdose on prescription painkillers or heroin. What’s worse is that not only has the number quadrupled since 1999, but there’s also no sign that it’s slowing down. The CDC has good reason for calling the rise of opioids in America a national epidemic—a public health crisis that is both unprecedented and persistent.

That’s exactly why Ohio Senator Rob Portman, among other politicians, have dedicated their work to pushing landmark legislation to combat opioid addiction once and for all. According to a recent National Review feature, Portman has thrown his support behind the 21st Century Cures Act: a bill that’s not only an aggressive strategy but a potential game-changer for recovery.

Portman’s Crusade

Portman, a junior senator from Ohio, has made drug prevention and treatment something of a personal crusade. “Portman first took an interest in the issue of drug abuse as a representative for Ohio’s second congressional district, where his constituents would frequently ask what he was doing to address addiction within their communities,” the National Review story said. “Once he began to consider the full extent of the problem, he realized that drug addiction affects nearly every aspect of society, from crime rates to welfare programs to the economy.” It’s the knows-no-boundaries aspect that makes opioids so insidious in America. No matter where you turn, it seems there’s some stomach-churning photograph or discouraging story just waiting to remind us just how terrible it is out there. Portman seems to take these stories and statistics differently, though. He sees them as calls to action.

“[Opioids are] a poison coming into our communities and affecting everything,” Portman said. “And unfortunately, it’s getting worse not better.” Still, even in the face of dispiriting news, Portman has soldiered on against drug addiction for the last two decades. The National Review story reports that he founded and chaired an anti-drug group called PreventionFIRST!, “which develops comprehensive solutions to youth substance abuse.” Recently, Portman has narrowed in on opioid abuse, which has its own unique problem, as the Review points out: “Nearly every one of the hundreds of recovering opioid addicts he has encountered has said that shaking the grip of opioids was more difficult than shaking other addictions.” Another reason for Portman’s commitment to the fight? “One in nine heroin deaths nationwide occur in Ohio, where an estimated 200,000 residents are addicted to opioids,” the story said. It’s one thing to fight a war on a national scale—it’s another thing altogether to have most of the war in your backyard.

An “Act” of Change

The 21st Century Cures Act, which enjoyed a landslide win in the House, is more than just Sen. Portman’s priority. It’s a far-reaching bill that, for one thing, commits $1 billion in state grant dollars for preventing and treating (specifically) opioid addiction. Also, according to Wired, the bill “would make the most significant changes in decades to how medical treatments are tested and brought to market.” (In other words, it lights a fire under agencies like the FDA to get drugs and devices approved faster.) The bill even sets aside money for mental health care programs. Earlier this year, when the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) was signed into law by President Obama, he observed “this legislation includes some modest steps to address the opioid epidemic [and]given the scope of this crisis, some action is better than none.” It’s not breathtakingly eloquent President-speak, but it belies Obama’s frustrations that CARA couldn’t do more than expand education programs or enhance prescription drug monitoring.

That’s where the Cures Act comes in. Due to be signed into law by year’s end, “[it]would build on the $181 million a year outlined in CARA, awarding block grants to states, based on demonstrated need, from a pot of $500 million for each of the next two years,” the National Review said. Portman believes that his own opioid-riddled state “might be eligible for somewhere between $20 and $40 million in the upcoming year.” Together, CARA and the Cures Act offer the first genuine glimmers of hope in an otherwise bleak landscape. In fact, many experts believe both programs “represent a tremendous step forward, because they offer unique resources and follow a public-health model for treatment and prevention.”

Still, for all the support Sen. Portman throws behind legislation, he insists the key to long-term success rests on a much smaller stage: our local communities. “I don’t think Washington is going to solve the problem,” he said in the National Review piece, “but it has a role to play in helping communities be able to deal with it.”

What’s Next?

Despite all the promise of the Cures Act, we’re still a long way away from seeing the tide turn when it comes to opioid addiction. Legislation doesn’t always equal success. As the Review story recalls, “when federal and state governments began to implement aggressive measures against prescription-painkiller abuse in 2010, heroin-related deaths began to rise steadily.” It notes that heroin is markedly cheaper to get than painkillers. The story also cautions that opioid abuse isn’t always because people overuse their prescribed medication. On the contrary, many patients “sell some or all of their medication to other addicts.” That’s why Sen. Portman believes in a two-pronged approach that involves long-term treatment—including sober-living homes—and more effective law enforcement.

More refreshing than a politician’s insistence that government isn’t the ultimate solution, is Portman’s belief that addiction is a disease and not “the result of bad decisions or moral failings.” Going one step further, Portman believes “that getting people to accept as much will reduce the stigma surrounding addicts, leading more of them to feel comfortable seeking treatment.”

While Portman is focused on how Cures Act funding would be used in Ohio, he’s aware of the larger issues at stake for our country. Still, one thing’s certain with the battle against opioid addiction: Sen. Portman won’t rest until his state becomes something greater than just another cautionary tale or sad statistic. Despite all the doom and gloom, advocates like Portman believe that we should have hope that our opioid problem can be curbed.

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About Author

Paul Fuhr is an addiction recovery writer whose work has appeared in The Literary Review, The Live Oak Review, The Sobriety Collective and InRecovery Magazine, among others. He is the author of the alcoholism memoir “Bottleneck.” He's also the creator and co-host of "Drop the Needle," a podcast about music and recovery. Fuhr lives in Columbus, Ohio with his family and their cats, Dr. No and Goldeneye.