08.30.16

Sen. Burr offers update on opioid fight

August 30, 2016

By Senator Richard Burr

There’s an ongoing public health crisis with prescription painkillers in North Carolina that is devastating thousands of families every year -- the opioid abuse epidemic. It’s a heartbreaking trend that cannot be fixed from Washington, but it can be addressed with the help of effective policies passed by Congress.

For a good start, the Republican-led U.S. Senate recently passed and President Obama signed into law a bipartisan bill to assist doctors, EMTs and families confronting this crisis.

I voted for the bipartisan Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) -- which had the support of over 230 groups that battle drug addiction -- because it will strengthen prevention efforts for those who are at risk, treatment efforts for individuals suffering from addiction, and ongoing recovery efforts. Specifically, it will help ensure paramedics have access to drugs that prevent fatal overdoses and will help prevent “doctor shopping” by addicted individuals trying to get access to prescription opioids.

North Carolinians who are fighting every day on the front lines of the opioid epidemic need more tools to work with. Congress passed this legislation to give the medical community and law enforcement a larger toolbox.

This law couldn’t come soon enough, especially for North Carolina. A study published earlier this year found four North Carolina cities among the top 20 for prescription opioid abuse – Wilmington was No. 1 among all U.S. cities. The study, which looked at opioid abuse among Americans with certain employer-sponsored health insurance, found Hickory, Jacksonville and Fayetteville also in the top 20 nationwide.

The new law provides grants to states to support prevention, treatment, recovery and education efforts. CARA also provides grants to states to expand access to overdose medicine. The bill will help those suffering from opioid addiction get well and stay well.

And just as important -- Congress has doubled funding to combat this epidemic, empowering medical professionals, law enforcement, and the individuals and families fighting on the frontlines of this public health crisis.

Perhaps most important of all, the bill underscores that drug addiction is treatable, and that we can and must do more to help the thousands of individuals and families hurting from this epidemic.

I was proud to support this law – heralded by The New York Times as “the most sweeping drug- abuse legislation in years” – to help North Carolinians who struggle with addiction. However, while this bill is a significant step forward, our work is not yet done.

North Carolinians are heartbroken from news reports about how opioid abuse is tearing up communities and families. Each year, nearly 1,000 North Carolinians die from opioid abuse. According to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, drug overdose deaths have increased by 320 percent since 1999. Opioid painkillers are now involved in more drug deaths than cocaine and heroin combined.

Now that the bipartisan Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act has been signed into law, Congress can continue helping North Carolina fight the opioid epidemic by making sure that the federal government is advancing the research and development of new, abuse-deterrent drugs and treatments, not hindering these innovations.

Dr. Francis Collins, head of the National Institutes of Health, testified in Congress that in 10 years he expects that researchers will develop a non-addictive painkiller. For years, I have led the annual bipartisan effort to ensure robust funding for the National Institutes of Health because of the important work they are doing to better understand and combat drug abuse, as well as so many other diseases and disorders. And as a member of the Senate’s health committee, I have been working on the 21st Century Cures bill, which will help ensure that the NIH is prepared to meet these kinds of ambitious, but absolutely necessary, goals.

While CARA takes steps toward helping more North Carolinians escape drug addiction so that they can achieve their full potential, the battle continues. North Carolinians are counting on Congress to be a partner in responsibly dealing with this epidemic, and I look forward to continuing to fight for them in Washington.

Richard Burr is U.S. Senator from North Carolina. You can reach his office at burr.senate.gov

This op-ed was published by the Wilmington Star-News.