Earlier this month, more than a dozen pieces of federal legislation related to the nationwide opioid and heroin epidemic were approved by the U.S. House of Representatives.
One of those bills includes an amendment to existing legislation sponsored by U.S. Representative Lee Zeldin. It aims to “improve the guidelines for prescribing opioids and pain medication by creating a federal inter-agency and stakeholder task force that would review, modify and update best practices for pain management and prescribing pain medication,” according to a press release.
Mr. Zeldin, a member of the House’s Bipartisan Task Force to Combat the Heroin Epidemic, said in a recent interview that he has been committed to fighting the heroin epidemic after noticing a “disturbing trend” with heroin use and overdoses in Suffolk County over the years. According to the 2015 New York State Opioid Poisoning, Overdose and Prevention Report, 337 individuals in Suffolk County died from heroin-related overdoses between 2009 and 2013, leaving the county with the highest rate among all 62 counties in New York State.
“It would be reviewing, modifying and updating best practices that currently exist for pain management and prescribing pain medication,” the congressman said of the amendment in a recent phone interview. “As a result of this task force, guidelines would be put out federally in consultation with the task force to assist anyone responsible for prescribing pain medication.”
Mr. Zeldin said that targeting prescription pain medications gets to the root of the heroin problem—as prescription pills, particularly opioids, have become the gateway for people to use the cheaper, more powerful opioid, heroin.
“What happened way too many times was, an individual was sick and got a prescription for oxycodone, or started taking Tylenol with codeine, and that escalated to the point that that individual was not only getting in trouble for testing positive for illegal substances on a yearly analysis but stealing money, assaulting others around them, or committing other offenses that resulted in jail time,” he said.
He added, “It all started with prescriptions.”
The remaining legislation in the package of opioid bills that were approved by the House earlier this month includes the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, or CARA, a “critical” piece of legislation in the battle against the heroin epidemic, Mr. Zeldin has said.
CARA would provide up to $80 million in federal funding to help prevent and treat addiction at the local level through community-based education, prevention, treatment and recovery programs. The bill also would provide funding to expand prescription drug monitoring across the country. It also would pay to supply police departments and emergency medical responders with more Narcan, a prescription drug that, when administered, essentially reverses an overdose by blocking opioid receptors in the brain and helping an individual who has overdosed to breathe normally again.
The Examining Opioid Treatment Infrastructure Act, which also passed, will require the U.S. comptroller general to conduct an evaluation and report over the next two years of the inpatient and outpatient treatment facility capacities nationwide, and the availability of treatment, to see if it meets the current needs of the country.
Other legislation approved by the House includes acts that will require the commissioner of food and drugs to solicit recommendations from the Food and Drug Administration to create a plan on how to deal with the opioid and heroin epidemic, help law enforcement officials identify and target drug traffickers to halt the flow of illegal drugs into the country, and allow for easier prosecution of drug traffickers.
“Everyone talks about the need for additional tools, not only to stop illegal narcotics from entering our country in the first place but to also boost their local community-based efforts on the other end of that law enforcement spectrum,” Mr. Zeldin said. “It’s so important that everyone’s talking to each other, because when one police department, one school district, one family learns a lesson, both good or bad, it is so much more impactful if that lesson is learned by everyone else.
“When a lesson is learned that helps develop a best practice on any front related to education, prevention, rehabilitation, enforcement, that lesson learned doesn’t just become a best practice for one entity. It becomes a best practice for everyone,” he added.
The congressman said that even though there is now a big push to help fight the opioid and heroin epidemic, communities must crank up the efforts to educate children on the harmful effects of all drugs, so that they learn from an early age that no one is exempt from addiction.
“The biggest thing is education in the classroom, and getting to our children young to help them better understand what the repercussions are of experimentation and why it’s so harmful,” Mr. Zeldin said. “Additionally, parents and grandparents can do more by disposing of unwanted, expired and unused medication that is in the medicine cabinet or elsewhere around the house.
“Thirdly, if there is an individual in a person’s life who is seen to be exhibiting signs of needing help, to intervene and try to get that person assistance before it’s too late.
“I would say it really starts with educating our children,” he said.