Congress is taking on opoid abuse and the nationwide increase in drug overdoses

Federal officials have become increasingly concerned about the rapid increase in drug overdoses across the country. The House Energy and Commerce Committee, in a series of hearings on the topic, is looking at how states are dealing with this problem. The next meeting is scheduled Thursday, May 28.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, in a bipartisian effort, wrote a letter to Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell this week, asking her to call on the surgeon general to address opoid abuse and made a request for more information regarding its recently announced initiative to reduce opoid-related deaths and addictions, according to a press release.
“This crisis of opioid related overdoses strikes without regard to geography, age, race, or socio-economic status and it requires an immediate and sustained response,” McConnell said in a statement, calling opioid abuse a “public health crisis.”

In the final hours of the last legislative session, Kentucky passed a bipartisan heroin bill that included an emergency clause for it to take effect immediately. This new law allows judicial discretion to determine if low-level traffickers should go to jail or be ordered to treatment; stronger sentencing for high-volume dealers; increased money for treatment; optional needle exchange programs; a “good Samaritan” provision; and increased access to Naloxone, a drug that can reverse the effects of an overdose.

Opoid-related overdose deaths are largely caused by prescription drug and heroin.

In Kentucky, of the 722 deaths autopsied in 2013, 230, or 32 percent, were attributed to heroin, compared to 143, or 20 percent in 2012, according to the 2013 Overdose Fatality Report.

Nationwide, the death rate from painkiller overdoses nearly quadrupled between 1999 and 2013 and heroin related deaths increased by 39 percent and the number of Americans seeking treatment for painkiller addiction has increased by 900 percent since 1997, according to the release.

Indiana’s health commissioner, Jerome Adams, is scheduled to speak at Thursday’s House committee meeting to discuss the state’s recent HIV and hepatitis C outbreaks, which is tied to needle sharing among drug users. Adams will discuss the state’s needle exchange programs, which was put in place to help combat this problem.

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