Opioid crisis getting out of hand in Arizona

October 10, 2017
Contributed Columns

When I was a narcotics officer and homicide detective, I witnessed the deadly impact of opioids and other drugs.

I saw how much it affected not just the person addicted to the drugs, but also family members, friends, and the entire community. To this day, I recall heart-wrenching overdose scenes and the reaction of family members as they learned of the death of their loved ones. Sadly, more than 40 years later, things are worse.

Today, this epidemic is taking more lives than ever before. Every day, more than 90 Americans die from opioid and prescription drug overdoses, and in Arizona the rate of overdose deaths has climbed more than 70 percent in the last five years.

What started as a problem has grown into a crisis that impacts people regardless of class, race or gender. No community is immune to it.

In Congress, I am proud to lead the fight against the rising tide of opioid-related deaths and addiction. As a member of the bipartisan Heroin Task Force, I am working with my colleagues in Washington and leaders from communities across Arizona to draft a comprehensive approach to tackle the crisis on multiple fronts.

My main goals include preventing the over-prescription of painkillers and getting help to those suffering from addiction. I am pushing for expanded treatment options for people struggling with addiction, robust prevention programs and reforms to our criminal justice system.

During the August recess, I held an opioid roundtable with community leaders, law enforcement, and health care leaders from across the First District. We discussed data on the crisis to better understand it and help develop solutions; shared best practices for communities coping with drug-related issues; and determined how local, state, and federal organizations and governments can work together to end this epidemic.

These conversations are instrumental, and I am grateful for the feedback from different perspectives of the fight. Now we must get to work on a comprehensive solution.

Our community clinics and health centers are on the front lines of this battle, and they do great work to help patients struggling with addiction. As a starting point, I am working on health care initiatives to keep critical funding for these centers.

Beyond that, specific solutions are needed to address the crisis. Expanding treatment options and equipping our doctors and nurses with the resources to prevent overdoses, such as opioid antidotes like naloxone, will save lives. I am proud to support measures to incentivize the manufacturing of generic medicine and increase competition in the prescription medicine market to bring down costs. We must continue to identify and push innovative solutions like this to curb the rise of opioid abuse and addiction.

Another facet of this crisis is law enforcement. Data shows that addressing drug use solely from a law enforcement perspective has been ineffective. Congress must reform the criminal justice system so that, while we continue to enforce our laws, our officers have the training and resources to help people struggling with addiction get treatment they desperately need.

Focusing on penalizing drug users without offering them support and treatment will only exacerbate the issue and turn them back toward a life of drugs, leading to greater recidivism and potential overdose deaths. We must also focus our efforts on passing stricter laws that prevent patients and veterans from being overprescribed painkillers that often lead to addiction.

We are all in this fight to end the opioid epidemic and I am confident that we will find a solution. Congress must act to pass bipartisan, comprehensive legislation that invests in these efforts. I will not sit by while our children, loved ones, and family members fall victim to this crisis.

I am committed to continue working with Arizona leaders to protect our communities and get them the support they need.