Mike didn’t know anyone in the room. He’d heard of our meeting to discuss opioid abuse on the news and wanted to share his family’s story. His son was injured in a school sporting accident and became addicted to the prescription painkillers provided by his doctor to aid in his recovery. Eventually, his son made the all-too-familiar transition to a cheaper source: heroin. To this day, Mike’s son still struggles with his addiction that began with opioid abuse.
Mike went on to speak about his sister who also suffered from addiction. A nurse, his sister found herself with easier access to pills than most. When coworkers and others caught on, she moved and continued to procure pills. She died as a result of her addiction. Mike came to the meeting — a roundtable I held with law enforcement and medical professionals — in hopes that sharing his stories could help ensure it doesn’t happen to other families.
The opioid crisis has taken a stranglehold on our communities -- killing our friends, family members and neighbors, regardless of race, socioeconomic status, geographic location or political affiliation. Fueled by dangerous new chemical versions and illicitly manufactured drugs, this epidemic is spiraling out of control with no end in sight unless we take action.
That is precisely what we are doing at the House Energy and Commerce Committee, of which I serve as chairman: taking action and leading the fight to combat the opioid crisis. The only way we can put an end to this scourge is through an all-hands-on-deck approach to address the root causes of the opioid crisis in our communities.
At roundtables throughout our district — most recently in Hermiston — I’ve met with people like Mike, the victims, families, doctors, treatment advocates and law enforcement officers. These meetings are critical to understanding what is working and what is not, from those on the front lines of this fight in Oregon. It is my top priority as chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee to take these conversations back to the nation’s capital as we work to advance concrete solutions to put a stop to this deadly epidemic.
Beginning this week, the Energy and Commerce Committee will kick off hearings to examine legislation aimed at combating the opioid crisis. We will examine proposals to give law enforcement the tools they need to take illicit synthetic drugs, like fentanyl, off our streets.
Fentanyl is so deadly that a piece the size of a grain of salt can kill you, and it has led to a reported 49 deaths in Oregon over the course of two years.
We will look at proposals in the health care space to increase the use of prescription drug monitoring programs, improve care for opioid addiction among pregnant mothers and ensure medical professionals are making fully informed care and treatment decisions when prescribing opioids.
We will put more resources than ever before toward helping our communities combat the epidemic. The committee will look at proposals to better track federal funding, making it easier for local entities to find the money to support their efforts and apply for it. Oregon received more than $6.5 million to help combat the opioid crisis through the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) — a groundbreaking law that also originated in the Energy and Commerce Committee — and it is critical that these resources make it to the people on the ground in this fight.
In addition to our legislative push, we are continuing our ongoing investigation into alleged pill dumping in West Virginia, which will have widespread impacts in the fight against opioid abuse in Oregon and throughout the country. This will continue to be part of our multifaceted approach to extinguishing the opioid crisis wherever it exists.
Much more can — and must — be done in order to stop the havoc being wreaked in our communities. The time is now to press on in our fight, to put forth a comprehensive solution that attacks this nationwide epidemic from all angles. That is at the top of my to-do list in Congress.
Greg Walden is the U.S. Representive of Oregon’s Second District. This column first appeared in the La Grande Observer.