Make no mistake: The opioid crisis persists in the United States.
We lose 220 Americans to an opioid-related drug overdose daily. To put this in context, we are losing more Americans every year to a drug overdose than to diabetes, liver disease and nephritis.
The Donald Trump administration formed a cross-agency task force to develop solutions to this crisis. Congress has spent hundreds of millions of dollars and passed several pieces of legislation to address the epidemic. And the Biden administration remains committed to addressing rates of drug-overdose deaths.
Yet, the crisis has worsened, all while a policy to prevent addiction, signed into law in 2022, collects dust at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
In 2018, we lost 130 Americans daily to an opioid-related drug overdose. According to the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, we lost 80,000 Americans to an opioid-related drug overdose in the 12 months between September 2021 and September 2022. This represents a 70 percent increase in opioid-related overdose deaths in just four years.
It’s devastating to look at the lack of effect some downstream efforts to address the crisis have had. Much of the focus on combatting the opioid crisis has been on supporting families and individuals in crisis. This has included ensuring widespread naloxone availability in communities nationwide, support for first responders, and ensuring access to treatment for substance and opioid use disorder. Very little, if any, of this activity has been focused on what we can do to prevent opioid addiction.
Our nation’s reactive, rinse-and-repeat approach to the opioid crisis is a tragic oversight. It hasn’t worked, and, in fact, the problem’s gotten worse. Yet, we’re doubling down on such approaches? It makes little sense.
While the Biden Administration has announced its commitment to addressing this epidemic, it is, unfortunately, more of the same. The president’s plan touches on efforts to slow the flow of fentanyl into communities, expand access to naloxone, improve addiction treatment services, and expand access to medications to treat opioid use disorder.
We have tried this before; it hasn’t worked. Three out of every four drug-overdose deaths still involve opioids.
The irony is we already have all the tools to shift our strategy. Last year, as part of the omnibus spending package, the president signed a piece of legislation called the “Non-Opioids Prevent Addiction in the Nation (NOPAIN) Act.” This legislation represents a new approach to addressing the opioid crisis and focuses on preventing addiction by increasing access to and use of non-opioid approaches for pain.
For many, the path toward heroin and fentanyl use starts with prescription opioid pills. In fact, government data suggest that 75 percent of such users initiate with prescription opioid pills. Opioid prescribing for short-term pain patients can play a role, as 90 percent of these patients are given opioids to manage their pain. This leads to more than 4 million newly persistent opioid users annually in the United States. This doesn’t have to be the case.
The NOPAIN Act attempts to prevent opioid addiction by increasing access to and using non-opioid therapies to manage pain. It’s a prevention strategy that can protect patients from unnecessary exposure to prescription opioids and decrease the risk of developing long-term opioid use habits.
Unfortunately, this law isn’t scheduled to go into effect until 2025. Two more years and potentially an additional 160,000 lives will be lost while the administration brings this needed relief to patients.
Mr. President, we have tried too long to approach this crisis downstream, and it hasn’t worked. The opioid crisis is upon us now, and we don’t know what it will look like in two years. We need to try something new, and we need to do it now. We urge you to make non-opioid treatments available now.
Some 160,000 lives are on the line.