The opioid epidemic is devastating our country. In 2016, we lost more than 64,000 Americans to drug overdoses. Today, more than 2 million Americans struggle with opioid addiction. The statistics are daunting and most frighteningly for our country, this epidemic shows no sign of slowing down. Tragically, all of these factors result in the death of 91 Americans each day to opioid overdoses.
In 2014, we had more Oklahomans die of drug overdoses than we did in car crashes. Our state has one of the highest sales per capita for prescription painkillers, filling 128 opioid prescriptions for every 100 people. Opioids are doled out in excessive quantities without considering the risks of abuse or addiction.
How did we get here? When did we start sending home controlled substances in a bottle with instructions to ‘take as needed’ printed on them?
Starting in the mid-1990s, the American Pain Society started utilizing pain as the ‘fifth vital sign.’ This allowed patients to include their subjective level of pain as a factor when being evaluated by their doctors. The more severe the pain, the stronger the drug prescribed by the doctor. We let the genie out of the bottle when we started treating pain as something that we could suppress, rather than something we could treat and cure.
We’ve seen prescription rates for opioids skyrocket—making opioids readily available not only to those who were at risk for abuse, but also to those around them who weren’t prescribed any opioids in the first place. A staggering 259 million opioid prescriptions were written in 2012—enough for every adult in the United States to have their own bottle of opioids. Excess painkillers often fall into the wrong hands of family members and friends. Enough is enough. It’s time to put the genie back into the bottle.
Our state and local governments have made efforts in our communities to combat the epidemic, but it hasn’t been enough. This past week, President Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency. This emergency declaration will allow states to use telemedicine services to treat patients for substance abuse and make it easier to prescribe medicine for substance abuse treatment. It also gives the Department of Health and Human Services more flexibility to hire specialists to more effectively use available tools and resources to combat the crisis.
With the full support of the federal government, our state government, and our local communities, we can reduce the devastating impact of the opioid crisis. I’ll continue to work with my colleagues across the aisle in Congress, law enforcement officials, and medical professionals to end this epidemic that affects American families across the country.