US Senator Mike Rounds’ Weekly Column: The Opioid Epidemic Affects All of Us

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MikeRounds official SenateThe Opioid Epidemic Affects All of Us
By Senator Mike Rounds

Across South Dakota and the United States, prescription painkiller and heroin abuse is increasing. In the last 15 years, abuse of opioids has risen more than 200 percent. It is tearing apart families, ruining lives and killing individuals who suffer from addiction throughout the entire country. It’s important to address this growing epidemic and reverse this dangerous trend.

Tragically, 44 Americans die each day from overdosing on painkillers. And South Dakota isn’t immune: In 2014, 63 South Dakotans died from drug overdoses. That same year, 13,000 South Dakotans needed treatment from illegal drug use but failed to receive it, including 3,000 youth. As a result, communities are suffering.

The Senate has been working on a solution to tackle the opioid epidemic on three fronts: prevention, treatment and combating overdose. The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) of 2016 that recently passed the Senate is a bipartisan solution that will help communities combat opioid abuse at the local level. It is supported by more than 130 national anti-drug groups, as well as 38 state Attorneys General, including South Dakota Attorney General, Marty Jackley.

CARA will strengthen law enforcement and recovery programs through state and local grants. One purpose of the grant programs is to improve treatment of substance abuse disorders in the criminal justice system and strengthen law enforcement’s ability to counter the trafficking of illegal drugs. The programs will also expand prevention, education and treatment opportunities and limit the availability of prescription opioids through drug takeback and prescription drug monitoring programs. It creates two task forces and authorizes a number of discretionary grant programs to combat substance abuse and overdose deaths. This comprehensive approach is an evidence-based solution that will help communities combat this epidemic.

When we think of drug abusers, we might identify them as the disenfranchised in our communities, those who may not have a job or a home or a family. Especially in the case of opioid addiction, that stereotype just isn’t true. Studies have shown that no one in society is immune to opioid abuse, including our neighbors, our friends and our family members. Many times, addiction starts with a legal painkiller prescription from a doctor following surgery or to manage chronic pain. Because opioids are highly addictive and often result in a physical dependency, they can easily lead to abuse. When the prescription runs out, addicts often purchase them illegally on the street or turn to a cheaper, even more dangerous substitute: heroin.

Addiction is a devastating dependency that has spread to all corners of our society. The Senate’s passage of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act is an important step toward ending the heartbreaking issue of drug abuse in the United States. It will help save lives, keep families intact and keep our communities safe and secure. By expanding prevention efforts, enhancing support for law enforcement and increasing access to treatment, we can begin to reverse and stop the growing epidemic of opioid addiction in the United States.