Costello Op-Ed: More needs to be done to combat heroin epidemic
As published in the Pottstown Mercury
For the first time in decades, heroin use is on the rise in the United States. No demographic has been immune, as it is impacting men and women alike without regard for age, race, ethnicity or income level.
Earlier this summer, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released startling statistics: heroin use has doubled among young adults, incidence of abuse is almost always tied to use of at least one other drug, and most startling of all – nearly half of those who used heroin are also addicted to prescription opioid painkillers.
Here at home, we’re seeing the shift from urban to suburban and rural victims, and these tragic incidents of overdoses are becoming far too common in our local communities. Overdose fatality rates in most of the Philadelphia region are well above the national average. In fact, in the four counties that make up Pennsylvania’s Sixth Congressional district, we’ve seen the fatalities increase by double or triple historical averages.
This is a national issue that is taking a very real and a very local toll. This fall, I will be looking to find ways to help boost our coordination and resources at the federal, state and local levels to address this epidemic.
We must reinforce the commitment made by our local healthcare, mental health and law enforcement professionals. Our community leaders have been working diligently to address this epidemic, and I continue to hear their requests for greater resources so that they can meet the demand for these important services. That is why I have cosponsored several pieces of legislation to provide local and state officials with the necessary resources to help combat this epidemic.
First, I am a cosponsor of H.R. 953, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which seeks to address the national epidemics of prescription opioid abuse and heroin use by improving and increasing educational efforts, helping communities with high rates of drug abuse implement community-based prevention strategies, and incentivizing states and local governments to develop a comprehensive plan to defeat heroin abuse.
Second, I am a cosponsor of H.R. 2805, the Heroin and Prescription Opioid Abuse Prevention, Education, and Enforcement Act, which would establish a Health and Human Services Task Force to develop and study best practices for pain management and prescription of pain medication. Additionally, it would make available several state, local and federal grants to help first responders prevent opioid overdose deaths by expanding access to an opioid overdose reversal drug.
Finally, I recently cosponsored H.R. 3537, the Synthetic Drug Control Act, in an effort to strengthen the current federal law to stop the sale of deadly synthetic drugs. Synthetic drugs are highly addictive and extremely dangerous, and we often sadly see the impacts in families in Pennsylvania’s Sixth District and beyond. This bill is being led by Congressman Charlie Dent, and I am pleased to join him in his effort.
In addition to advancing these commonsense bills out of the House, we also need to encourage innovation in how we respond to the contributing factors that lead to heroin addiction. Over the summer, I had the opportunity to visit Egalet Corp. in Wayne. Eaglet is leading in the creation of a virtually unbreakable pill that will deter grinding or chopping — a practice that is commonly associated with opioid addiction and oftentimes a precursor to heroin use. This is the type of creativity and ingenuity that we need to encourage. Therefore, as Congress works to streamline and improve coordination of the drug approval process at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, this is an area of development that is a step in the right direction.
We have a long road ahead to reverse this devastating trend. I am committed to working with all stakeholders to help our communities overcome this epidemic and save families.
To learn more about the risks of using heroin, how to recognize and respond to an opioid overdose, or get help for substance abuse problems, please call 1-800-662-HELP or visitwww.samhsa.gov/atod/opioids or www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/heroin.
Rep. Ryan Costello is a Republican who represents Pennsylvania’s 6th Congressional District in the House of Representatives.