Here in Ohio, we are finally making progress on stemming the tide of opioid abuse that’s been hitting our communities hard. In fact, from June of 2017 to June of 2018, we saw 21 percent drop in overdose deaths, the highest percentage decrease in the nation for the most recent time period for which we have information.
By any measure, the opioid epidemic is the worst drug crisis we’ve had. The number of addictions, overdoses and overdose deaths caused by opioids are still way too high but it is encouraging that for the first time in eight years we are seeing a decrease in overdose deaths.
Over the last three years, Congress has put new policies in place at the federal level to promote better prevention, treatment, and recovery and to help stop some of these deadly drugs from coming into our communities, legislation like the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), the state opioid response grants, and the STOP Act. We’ve provided more than $3 billion in additional funds over the past three years to combat this epidemic through more innovative approaches. Ohio has received nearly $140 million through CARA and CURES since they were signed into law. That money has gone towards evidence-based prevention, treatment and recovery-oriented programs across our state.
But as we’ve started to reduce opioid overdose deaths and help more people get into treatment and recovery, and get these dangerous opioids off the streets, other drugs have seeped in to our communities and filled the gaps opioids left behind.
Chief among these is pure crystal methamphetamine, coming almost entirely from cartels in Mexico, but we’ve also started seeing more instances of cocaine overdoses. Both meth and cocaine fall are what’s known as ‘psychostimulants’ which, unlike opioids, can make users more aggressive and violent, making our communities less safe overall.
According to a recent survey, in 2016, 2.4 million Americans said they recently had started using cocaine, methamphetamines, or prescription stimulants, including Ritalin and Adderall.
I regularly meet with treatment providers and drug abuse task forces across the state. Over the last several months, from all over the state I hear the same thing. We are making real progress on opioids, including prescription drugs and heroin, and even some progress in deadly fentanyl, but the new scourge is crystal meth.
What’s worse, meth and cocaine are also increasingly being laced with fentanyl and causing deadly overdoses. Just in the past two months alone, at least 49 people in my home town of Cincinnati died from consuming cocaine that, unknown to them, had fentanyl mixed in it. In all, it’s estimated that nearly 30,000 individuals were killed by these kinds of psychostimulants last year alone.
This resurgence of these psychostimulant drugs that had become less prevalent in our communities just shows that the broader problem is not a particular drug but issue of addiction. We will continue to see this cycle of new addictive drugs replacing old ones for as long as there is a demand. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 19.7 million Americans over the age of 12 battled a substance use disorder in 2017. We have to do more than focus on a particular drug to fix the root causes of this disease.
Recently, I introduced the Combating Meth & Cocaine Act to address this problem. It will allow needed flexibility for state opioid response grant funds to allow them to be used for programs focused on treating methamphetamine and cocaine usage. From what I’ve heard across the state of Ohio this is necessary to respond to the current crisis and help treat a larger number of people hurt by addiction. In addition, we know these funds are making a difference, so the bill will also reauthorize the state opioid response grant program for five years, providing $500 million annually, to ensure there is a stable, predictable funding stream to states to maximize its impact. These simple, common-sense changes will allow state and local organizations the flexibility they need to fight what is quickly becoming a two-front war on addiction.
Addiction is a difficult enemy to defeat. While I am encouraged that we’ve made progress in reducing opioid overdoses, we need to treat the underlying disease of addiction to help our communities and help hundreds of thousands of Ohioans recover and lead healthy, productive lives. I’ll keep working in Congress make sure the federal government is an effective partner with Ohio to save lives and restore communities.
Rob Portman is a Republican U.S. Senator representing Ohio.