The American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors issued an urgent public alert regarding the toxicity of illegal drugs being circulated on American streets advising, “The street drugs the public may be exposed to can be so dangerous that even trace amounts can be fatal when ingested, inhaled or even absorbed through the skin.” ASCLD reported a 6,000 percent increase in fentanyl cases witnessed in laboratories between 2012 and 2016 that “corresponds directly with the overdose deaths being seen nationwide.”
The Congressional Research Service provides the following explanation of what is an opioid: “An opioid is a type of drug that when ingested binds to opioid receptors in the body — many of which control a person’s pain and other functions. While these drugs are widely used to alleviate pain, some are abused by being taken in a way other than prescribed (e.g., in greater quantity) or taken without a doctor’s prescription. Many prescription pain medications such as hydrocodone and fentanyl are opioids, as is heroin (an entirely illicit drug).”
The Idaho State Police report a 958 percent increase in heroin-positive drug items from 2011 to 2016. ISP has also seen a 15 percent increase in toxicology opioid cases in the last fiscal year.
Efforts are underway at the federal level to assist with local and state work to address the opioid crisis affecting American families and communities:
On Oct. 26, President Donald Trump directed the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to declare the opioid crisis a public health emergency — expanding access to tele-medicine services; enabling more quick temporary appointments of specialists to respond to the emergency; providing assistance to help workers who have been displaced from the workforce because of the opioid crisis, subject to available funding; and other actions.
I joined 31 of my Senate colleagues, including fellow Idaho Sen. Jim Risch, in sending a bipartisan letter to the U.S. Department of Justice requesting that the DOJ provide to Congress within 30 days a comprehensive list of the ways the department is engaging with and supporting state and local forensic science service providers with the nation’s opioid epidemic.
On Dec. 7, 2016, I joined my Senate colleagues to enact the 21st Century Cures Act that authorizes new funding, made available through the State Targeted Response, to the Opioid Crisis Grants at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. These grants are awarded to states and territories through a formula based on unmet need for opioid abuse-disorder treatment and drug poison deaths. SAMHSA grants will be used to support state efforts to increase access to treatment, reduce unmet treatment needs and reduce opioid-related overdose deaths.
I supported passage of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act which became public law on July 22, 2016. CARA aims to address prescription drug abuse and heroin use by authorizing the U.S. Attorney General to award grants to states that address substance abuse and promote treatment and recovery. It also directs the HHS to create a Pain Management Best Practices Inter-Agency Task Force as well as a bipartisan Task Force on Recovery and Collateral Consequences. CARA authorizes the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment to award grants to state substance abuse agencies.
We must get a handle on this crisis which claimed more than 59,000 lives in 2016, devastates families and erodes our country. The struggle with addiction is an uphill battle that requires strength, courage and efforts at all levels to help protect Americans from these abuses.