In this age of partisan bickering in Washington, we’re pleased to spotlight rays of bipartisan congressional cooperation on a national crisis: opioid abuse.
After months of hard work, much of it led by U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, and Texas GOP Sen. John Cornyn, a comprehensive bill to address the medical and social scourge of opioid addiction lacks only Donald Trump’s signature to become law. The president, who declared opioid addiction a national emergency, is expected to sign the bill, providing new weapons to curtail an epidemic that has shattered families and communities.
The measure, which passed the House and Senate by overwhelming bipartisan margins, would make it easier for first responders to obtain naloxone, an anti-overdose treatment, and would increase research into non-opioid pain treatment as an alternative to legally prescribed but addictive opioids. The bill also offers greater support for treatment programs and drug courts, and steps up law enforcement resources to prevent fentanyl and other deadly synthetic drugs from coming into the United States.
Opioid addiction is such a widespread problem that congressional action is a strong first step but, unfortunately, not a complete solution. Opioid deaths are higher than the peak yearly death totals from car crashes or gun violence. Nationally, opioid-related overdoses occurred at 116 per day in 2016 — five times the rate in 1999, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Opioid abuse is a problem in our backyard, too. In Dallas County, at least 1,928 people have died of opioid or heroin overdoses since 2011, according to a Dallas Morning News review of autopsy records earlier this year. Federal law enforcement officials in North Texas have a nine-agency strike force, one of just a handful across the country, to focus on violent gangs that traffic in heroin and synthetic opioids from Mexico and China.
Congress needs to stay on top of opioid abuse and be prepared to tweak or expand strategies as the crisis evolves and to provide additional dollars in other budget cycles. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the bill could cost $8 billion over five years, a fraction of the tens of billions that addiction experts say is needed for treatment and other intervention. A landmark report from the surgeon general two years ago concluded that only about 28 percent of people with an opioid problem receive specialty treatment.
The good news is that Democrats and Republicans found common ground on many issues and didn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. For now, we’ll call that a big win.
— The Dallas Morning News