I sincerely hope the readers of this column have never been impacted by, or witness to, the utter destruction caused by drug abuse. The unfortunate truth is that most of us do know of someone who has struggled with addiction. Opiate abuse in the United States has reached epidemic proportions, and it is a disease that does not discriminate. It impacts men and women, rich and poor, young and old, all races, faiths and ethnicities. For some, the habit begins because of previous experimentation with other drugs, but for many, it begins with a prescription for treating a toothache or mitigating back problems.
With so many impacted by this problem, it is going to take a coordinated and comprehensive effort to combat it. Recently, I held my third annual Opiates Roundtable in Lancaster, where I brought together law enforcement, health care and treatment experts from around the 15th Congressional District for an open discussion about strategies and solutions we can work on together. These are the people on the front lines, who see the impact of the opiate epidemic every day. I was struck both by the frustration they expressed at the magnitude of the problem and endless need for resources, but also by the commitment each of them had to continuing the fight and making the best of what they do have.
For example, Judge Fred Moses of Hocking County talked about the successes he and his team of dedicated counselors have had with their local drug court. Through the program, they are helping addicts get off drugs and back on their feet and have only seen one instance of recidivism since 2012. It is important to recognize that while we need to support law enforcement, we can’t just lock up addicts to solve this problem.
While in Lancaster for the Roundtable, I had an opportunity to tour the Pearl House, which represents another facet of the battle against opiates. Pearl House provides “supportive housing” to recovering addicts and their children. We know that those who have the courage to face their addictions need a lot of support after they get off drugs to maintain sober lives and get back into the workforce. To that end, Pearl House provides services such as counseling and treatment to keep former addicts on the right track, in recovery and living with their families.
Representatives of the Adena Medical Center in Chillicothe were also represented. They have a program which serves pregnant women. The goal is to reduce the number of babies born addicted to opiates and to support and keep families together. This is an issue that is very important to me. In fact, in the days following the Roundtable, I was pleased the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Protecting Our Infants Act. I cosponsored this legislation with Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA), which takes proactive steps to help hospitals diagnose and treat newborns suffering from opiate dependency by requiring better tracking and data. The bill passed with unanimous, bipartisan support and I hope to see the Senate pass it in coming months.
These are just a few examples of the good work being done in our region to combat opiate abuse. Recently, the Ohio Department of Health reported a rise in drug overdose deaths of nearly 18 percent in our state. It’s a sobering reminder that, as with any struggle, there are highs and lows. We have a lot more work to do, but what gives me hope is the dedication and hard work of the people in our region who are making a difference, one addict at a time.
As always, I am grateful for the opportunity to serve Ohio’s 15th Congressional District and I look forward to hearing from you about any federal issues facing our nation. Please do not hesitate to call my Washington D.C. Office at (202) 225-2015, Hilliard Office at (614) 771-4968, Lancaster Office at (740) 654-2654, or Wilmington Office at (937) 283-7049 to share your thoughts with me.
Steve Stivers is a three-term member of Congress from Ohio’s 15th Congressional District.