Most medical professionals agree that opioid overdose and abuse in the United States has reached epidemic proportions. At the same time, the rate of heroin overdose being seen across the country has spiked to levels not seen for quite some time.
The two are not unrelated. In populations targeted for their likelihood of drug-seeking behavior, either out of addiction or the desire to sell those prescriptions on the black market, heroin is generally considered to be an easy replacement. As prescription opioids become harder to acquire, the addict switches his or her attention to other sources of medication. In some cases, heroin is actually cheaper and easier to obtain than its prescription “cousins.” And, at least to some degree, the federal government has finally taken note of the problem.
As such, the U.S. Senate should be voting this week on a bi-partisan bill to address the issue; although some see the vote as a bare-minimum solution.
Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey is a co-author of the legislation and cites grim facts when talking about the need for federal intervention. Calling it “a problem that desperately needs a solution,” Toomey details how “more Pennsylvanians will die this year from heroin overdoses and misuse of opioid painkillers than from the flu or homicides.” Sobering statistics for a well-populated state with two notably large cities.
Also included in the bill are improvements to prescription drug monitoring tools and programs, as well as funds to increase the availability of naloxone; an injection carried by some local law enforcement agencies that can stop an in-progress heroin overdose from killing the patient.
Notably absent from the legislation, however, are funds necessary for helping those already impacted by addiction. Senate Democrats tried to affix an amendment to the bill seeking some $600 million dedicated to addiction prevention programs and treatment for those affected.
Toomey, a Republican, opposed such an amendment to his heroin legislation, as did others. In the end, the amendment failed to garner enough support to move on and it effectively died. It seems as though it’s cheaper to monitor customers at the pharmacy and give them a shot while in the the throes of an overdose than to help them out of the darkness of their addiction and to improve their lives.
Senator Bob Casey has expressed disappointment in the failure. Criticizing his fellow members of Congress he writes that “the heroin crisis requires resources from Congress, not just more rhetoric.”
Once again, Congress seemingly takes the easier route and continues to simply use the judicial system and law enforcement as drug “treatment” rather than providing actual psychological and medical assistance to those who so desperately need it.