Continuing to combat the opioid epidemic


It has been said time and time again: our nation is fighting an opioid epidemic. This epidemic is plaguing communities across the country, and it is not discriminating against any gender, economic class or race. It is relentless, claiming a life every ten minutes in the United States, and we all must come together to combat it. Recently, I have had the opportunity to meet with many individuals and organizations who are doing just that; they are actively engaged in recovery and treatment, as well as education and prevention.

Last month, I hosted my annual Opiate Roundtable, which brought together law enforcement officials, medical professionals, recovery centers, and prevention specialists to discuss how we can combat this epidemic moving forward. A highlight of the event was hearing from Judge Fred Moses, who has been a pioneer in the creation and expansion of vivitrol drug courts, which has been an excellent tool in recovery and treatment for Hocking County. The court he established in 2013 boasts and 85 percent employment rate for its graduates and 88 percent of graduates are drug-free.

With last year’s passage of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), many communities will be able to mimic Hocking County’s success with the creation of a grant program under the Department of Justice to develop, implement, or expand these courts. The first round of grant applicants will be notified of their status by the end of this month.

One of the legislative focuses of this roundtable was the necessity of evidence-based treatment, or treatment plans that have been tried, tested and proven effective. As a result, I am working to introduce legislation that will improve Medicaid coverage for these evidence-based treatments and ensure that Medicaid does not cover treatments that have not been proven successful. While legislative solutions represent only one method to combating this crisis, I am confident that policy changes like this one can supplement the ongoing efforts of communities.

This first roundtable brought together a broad coalition of experts from areas such as criminal justice, housing and employment, but there is one subject that is so nuanced and important I felt it warranted a separate conversation: how this epidemic is affecting the most vulnerable members of our society, our children. That is why I hosted a second roundtable to give those who are on the frontlines as nurses, guidance counselors, school administrators and social workers the opportunity to discuss and share what they have learned.

Together with Kathi Spirk, the Director of Clinton County Jobs and Family Services, serving as the moderator, we had great discussion about the ways that the foster care system and school counseling can intervene to support children who are in homes that struggle with addiction. One of the major problems addressed was children “aging out” or running out of time in the foster care system. One possible solution discussed would be extending the time a child can spend in a foster home as opposed to returning to a home with relapsed parents.

Also on hand were representatives from the health care industry to offer their perspective on steps that can be taken to alleviate long-term health problems – particularly the susceptibility to falling into addiction themselves, that plague far too many children. In recent years, there has been a severe decrease in behavioral health specialists, which implies a lack of incentives for qualified professionals to work in communities plagued by addiction.

These two roundtables gave me a number of takeaways and action items. I am grateful for the input and want to use the knowledge and ideas to shape meaningful and effective policy. But perhaps the most important takeaway was hope: the hope of a time when these sorts of events are no longer necessary and all communities are healthy and whole.

Congressman Steve Stivers represents Ohio’s 15thCongressional District in the United States House of Representatives.

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By Congressman Steve Stivers

Guest Columnist