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Bonamici: Fighting for our communities, overcoming opioid crisis

May 2, 2018
In The News

Across the country and here in Northwest Oregon, communities are experiencing the tragic and often deadly emergency of opioid abuse. During the past few months, I have met with parents, health care professionals, community leaders, veterans, and people from all walks of life who have shared heart-wrenching stories about how the opioid crisis is taking lives and inflicting pain on Oregon families. I've convened community discussions in each of the five counties I represent to hear from local experts and families in the throes of addiction. Their stories are heartbreaking.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than 63,600 people in the United States lost their lives to drug overdose in 2016. And the Oregon Health Authority found that Oregon has one of the highest rates of opioid misuse in the nation; about three Oregonians die each week from prescription opioid overdose.

Many factors have contributed to this crisis, and it will take significant efforts to overcome it. But one thing is clear: the pharmaceutical companies that manufacture opioids must be held accountable for their role. For years, doctors were told that opioids were safe, non-addictive, and the best way to treat pain. Decades later, we now know that opioids are highly addictive. Although they are still necessary for treating pain in some circumstances, there's evidence that they were overprescribed for too long and to too many patients. Thanks to efforts of the Oregon Coalition for Responsible Use of Medication and partners, prescription rates are now declining in Oregon. But that decline was desperately needed. In 2016, enough opioids were prescribed for every Oregonian — including children — to have 55 pills.

One way opioid manufacturers can help is by providing disposal for unused medications. Many people have unused medications at home, left over after a surgery or illness, and too often those leftover drugs are misused by children, family members, or friends. Some pharmacies and hospitals now offer this service to the public, but they are few and far between.

When Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in Portland first opened a drug disposal box at their pharmacy, people came in with suitcases of unused medications to drop off. There are some drop-boxes in police stations, but many members of the community are uncomfortable returning unused drugs in that setting.

We need to do better. We must make it easy to safely dispose of unused medications.

My bill, the Safe Disposal of Opioids Act, will create a grant program to help pharmacies and other qualified locations install and maintain drug disposal bins. The bill requires pharmaceutical companies to fund these grants through a small fee on the opioids they sell.

Unfortunately, the opioid crisis is too big and too complex to be solved by any single solution. In my recent report, I summarize what I've learned from local providers and advocates, what steps I've already taken, and my priorities moving forward. Local, state, and federal officials must cooperate to address this epidemic and stem the loss of lives. The private sector, non-profits, and our health care system all have roles to play, and in some cases are already leading the way.

One common thread in all of my meetings was the urgent need for more funding for treatment and prevention. In Congress, I'll keep working to hold opioid manufacturers accountable, increase drug disposal options, and secure more resources to help Oregonians cope with the deadly opioid epidemic.

Suzanne Bonamici represents Oregon's First Congressional District, including all of Washington County, in the U.S. House of Representatives. She lives in Beaverton.