The pain of the opioid epidemic continues to ravage communities across the country – especially here in Kentucky. For years, I have worked with my colleagues in Congress to fight back.
Just recently, President Donald Trump took a significant step by formally recognizing a public health emergency for opioids. I commend the President for reaffirming his commitment to tackling this critical problem, and I am proud to stand with him as we continue combating this heartbreaking issue.
By declaring a public health emergency, President Trump is reaffirming the federal government’s dedication to addressing the opioid crisis at all levels. His action will increase awareness of the severity of this epidemic. It will also help the government bypass the red tape that often slows down its ability to understand and combat opioid abuse and its staggering toll on families in Kentucky.
According to the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, drug overdose deaths in our state hit a staggering high of 1,404 fatalities in 2016. Opioid abuse tears apart families in both rural and urban communities across the socioeconomic spectrum; it hurts Kentuckians of every race, gender, and income level.
This crisis is a problem for all of us, and I will continue working with partners in Washington, Frankfort, and across the Commonwealth to fight back with comprehensive solutions that include prevention, enforcement, and treatment.
Frequently, I attend roundtables across Kentucky with health care providers, law enforcement officers and constituents who have battled addiction to hear the struggles they face every day.
For instance, in Lexington, I recently visited Chrysalis House, which is Kentucky’s largest licensed substance abuse treatment program for women. I saw firsthand their dedication to improving the health and safety of mothers and children in our state. I was proud to help Chrysalis House secure a $2.62 million competitive federal grant for lifesaving treatment programs.
These forums also provide valuable information about how – as Senate Majority Leader – I am best able to help those impacted by this disease. We have to fight this crisis from all angles – by preventing abuse, enforcing the laws, and treating addiction’s effects.
Working with my colleagues in Congress, I have helped pass legislation designed to promote treatment and bolster law enforcement efforts. Earlier this year, I supported legislation called “Jessie’s Law.” This bill, which passed the Senate, allows patients’ addiction history to be included in their medical records. This additional tool can help give medical professionals the ability to make better-informed treatment decisions.
Last year, I shepherded the “21st Century Cures Act” into enactment with strong bipartisan support. This law authorized $1 billion in federal assistance to states to boost their efforts to address opioid abuse and addiction. These resources promote innovative thinking by states to build upon the work they’ve been doing.
I was also proud to prioritize the consideration of another bipartisan measure to combat the opioid crisis, the “Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act” (CARA). This critical law is expanding prevention, treatment, recovery, and law enforcement efforts to address the epidemic in communities across the nation.
The competitive grant programs it established are helping communities fight against opioid abuse in their area through enforcement and treatment too. My office continues to stand ready to help Kentuckians apply for these resources and put them to good use in our communities.
Because of the severity of the devastation in Kentucky, I have consistently advocated for our state to national leaders in drug control policy, and I will continue to do so. I was grateful that the last two directors of the White House Office of the National Drug Control Policy – commonly known as drug czars – accepted my invitations to come to Kentucky.
In some of the hardest-hit regions in the Commonwealth, these national leaders saw the impacts of the opioid epidemic firsthand. I plan to invite future drug czars to come to Kentucky as well, so that they can better understand the pain our communities are enduring every single day – and help us devise more solutions.
A single piece of legislation cannot solve this crisis in our Commonwealth or across our nation. It will take continued collaboration from all of us – health care professionals, law enforcement officers, families, community leaders, and government officials. I am prepared to work with stakeholders in Washington and Kentucky to continue this fight against the scourge of opioid addiction.
Mitch McConnell, a Republican, is Kentucky’s senior Senator and the Senate Majority Leader.