Step up the fight against drug abuse

May 11, 2016

Local community groups throughout southeast Michigan are making a dedicated effort to curb the prescription drug and opioid abuse epidemic.

Oakland and Macomb community anti-drug coalitions recently partnered with law enforcement for the National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day. This annual event keeps communities safe by providing for proper disposal of prescription drugs.

In Michigan, the facts about drug abuse are startling. According to the latest report published by the Michigan Prescription Drug and Opioid Abuse Task Force, drug overdose deaths have more than tripled since 1999. From 2000-11, opioid-related hospitalizations have increased 120 percent. Across the U.S., drug overdose is now the leading cause of injury-related death for Americans ages 25-64 — surpassing even automobile accidents.

Prescription drug and opioid abuse touches every corner of our society, affecting people regardless of gender, age, income and race. People we know and love may start taking prescription drugs for legitimate reasons, but become addicted to them over time.

Andrew Fortunato, who recently completed an internship in my office as a part of his coursework for a master’s of social work degree, struggled with addiction.

Andrew became addicted to pain medication after he was offered it by a friend. He was just 15 years old. His adolescent mind reasoned, in his words, “pills come from a doctor, doctors are healers, so the pills probably can’t be that bad.”

For Andrew, one Vicodin every couple of days turned into two every other day, which turned into three or four, soon thereafter turning into several each day. This continued for a couple weeks until he didn’t have any Vicodin one day and realized something wasn’t quite right —runny nose, achy bones, difficulty sitting still or sleeping. He was in acute opiate withdrawal.

Andrew’s addiction worsened and he moved from Vicodin to OxyContin. But Andrew had the tools to reach out and fight his addiction: he called a sober friend and asked for help. Andrew has not used drugs or alcohol for more than four and a half years, and is committed to fighting this epidemic. He shares his story in the hopes of educating others, and is committed to providing support to those who are struggling.

We must increase our prevention and education efforts so more young people fully understand the harmful effects of prescription drugs and opioids. We must ensure that all those who are looking for help and support can find those critical networks.

It is time for the House to come together and pass comprehensive legislation to address prescription drug and opioid abuse. We need legislation that would expand prevention and education efforts. We need legislation that would increase the availability of Naloxone, an effective opioid overdose reversal drug. And we need legislation that would help those struggling with addiction by increasing access to immediate treatment, as well as long-term recovery programs.

Our communities are pitching in and doing what they can to fight this epidemic. The U.S. Senate passed comprehensive legislation, and now the House must do the same.

U.S. Rep. Sander Levin, D-Royal Oak, represents Michigan’s 9th District.

View the origional article here.