Bringing the Nation into Recovery

In recent years, our local newspapers have been filled with heartbreaking remembrances of those who have succumbed to opioid addiction. "A dear Son." "A loving Mom, daughter, and sister." "A talented artist who wanted to take over his father's sign-making business." "Pursuing his passion of film and entertainment editing." "She thought she wanted to be a brain surgeon." Each in memoriam demonstrates the enormous promise that disappears with a death and the overwhelming pain that spreads through a family and a community upon learning that an overdose victim could not be revived.

The statistics around this ongoing epidemic are staggering. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heroin use has more than doubled among young adults aged 18 to 25 over the past ten years. Deaths from drug overdoses are steadily increasing especially among older adults; according to the CDC, in 2013 more than 12,000 Baby Boomers died of accidental drug overdoses-more than the number who died in car accidents or from influenza and pneumonia. The subtle ways that heroin use enters a person's life are even more unsettling. Eighty percent of new heroin users have previously misused opioids, and individuals who misuse prescription opioid painkillers are 40 times more likely to become addicted to heroin. This crisis started in the medicine cabinet.

In March, the Senate took a big step to address this crisis when it overwhelmingly passed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), a bill that will help expand opioid abuse prevention and better educate communities about how to address the problem.  Included in the bill was an amendment I sponsored to authorize Medicare Part D prescription plans to utilize a patient review and restriction tool called a "lock-in" measure. A "lock-in" would connect seniors at risk for addiction with preventive resources and restrict them to one pharmacy and one provider when acquiring certain controlled substances, such as opioid painkillers. CARA will also give first responders and law enforcement expanded access to naloxone, an overdose antidote that has reversed more than 26,000 overdose cases between 1996 and 2014.

Because of naloxone's efficacy, I'm glad that, earlier this month, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee took another step to address this crisis by passing the Co-prescribing Saves Lives Act, a bill that I sponsored with Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia. This bipartisan legislation would encourage physicians to co-prescribe naloxone alongside opioid prescriptions and would make it more widely available in federal health settings, putting this life-saving drug in the hands of people who are at heightened risk for overdose. I believe co-prescribing naloxone can make a significant impact as part of a comprehensive, multipronged strategy to end this crisis.

As I travel across Virginia, I continue to see the tragic consequences of opioid abuse in our communities-parents mourning the loss of children, law enforcement officers exhausted by escalating crime rates, and everyday people struggling to find treatment for their addiction. At the same time, though, I see communities coming together to combat this epidemic. At a Senate Aging Committee field hearing in Leesburg, I heard from experts, community leaders, and state officials who were collaborating on this problem. In Lebanon, I participated in a training session with Project REVIVE, which educates people on how to administer naloxone in the case of an overdose. And across the state, drug courts are changing the way we handle drug crimes and steering people toward paths of long-term recovery.

The stories of Virginians fighting this epidemic on the front lines have greatly informed my efforts to fight this epidemic at the federal level. As families, law enforcement, physicians, former users and concerned citizens work to bring communities and individuals into recovery from addiction, the federal government must implement a comprehensive strategy to bring our nation into recovery from the opioid crisis.