“My brother unfortunately became addicted as a teenager. He is a very lucky one – at 33 years old he is still fighting every day to stay sober. These drugs have no place in our country, they are ruining our youth, our future.”
“My daughter is currently in rehab for heroin addiction; she’s destroyed several relationships with various members of our family, I am raising her 18-month-old son and she’s been in and out of jail for several years and she’s only 27. She’s overdosed at least once that I know about and has been physically and emotionally abused by a boyfriend. I am terrified that she won’t live to see 30 and that her son will never know the sweet and caring person she was/is when not high.”
“I have 4 boys and 3 of them are struggling with this addiction…the cost of going to a methadone clinic is very difficult…the cost of treatment facilities is too expensive…I am going broke trying to get my children sober.”
These are just three of the thousands of stories from across Southern and Southwest Ohio of how the opioid epidemic is impacting our families, our friends, and our communities. The statistics are staggering, no matter how many times you’ve heard them.
In one county alone, the overdose death rate was 37.5 per 100,000 people. In another county, 318 residents died of an unintentional drug overdose, just in 2016. In May, a local paper in our district called overdoses “the new normal.”
Unfortunately, this “new normal” is not confined to Southern Ohio or a few neighboring states. Instead, communities across the entire country have watched as family or friends, moms or dads, brothers or sisters, sons or daughters, are wheeled away by a paramedic after a dose of heroin that went wrong.
Recently, I testified in front of the House Energy and Commerce Committee about our stories here in Ohio’s Second District, along with dozens of other members of Congress, Republican and Democrat, urban and rural, who had similar stories to tell from across the nation.
President Donald Trump just declared the opioid epidemic a national public health emergency, saying: “Families, communities, and citizens across our country are currently dealing with the worst drug crisis in American history and even, if you really think about it, world history. This is all throughout the world. The fact is this is a worldwide problem.”
President Trump’s announcement puts the opioid epidemic and the need for solutions in the national spotlight and serves as a call to action to the entire country – not just one party, region, religion, or economic category.
As a member of the bipartisan House Heroin Task Force, I work with House members who represent districts across the country to find innovative solutions to help empower state and local government and law enforcement, which are on the ground fighting this fight every day and see it firsthand.
This year alone, the House of Representatives voted to deliver a $781 million increase in resources to the local and state level for fighting the opioid epidemic – including grants, treatment and prevention, and support for law enforcement.
However, as we search for solutions, I believe we should be certain to focus on preventing and stopping the spread of this epidemic to the next generation. One of the sheriffs in our district is an example of one of the many community leaders here in Ohio who are on the forefront of pushing for preventative solutions – not treatments alone.
The sheriff runs an after-school program at a local church that teaches young Ohioans about the dangers of drugs and opioids. This afterschool program also offers a safe and productive environment to keep children focused – and not out getting introduced to drugs. He also runs a “Dangers of Opiates” essay contest, asking local students to write an essay about the dangers of opioids and how they hope to become the generation to stop the epidemic.
“Even if one person is affected by this essay and they change their lives for the better, and not become another statistic, then I have completed my mission. … it is up to the new generation to stop the use of these dangerous opiates.”
These were the words of the winning essay in 2016.
When I ask this sheriff about these programs, he talks about how we can’t incarcerate our way out of this problem. We can’t always treat our way out of this. I hope we take some time in this process for a long-term vision of how we can prevent people from ever getting addicted in the first place.
In the midst of this national emergency, let’s look to our country’s future as reason to fight for a solution.
By Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-OH)
Wenstrup represents Ohio’s 2nd District. Ruiz represents California 36th District.