Congress must do more to fight drug crisis


By Rob Portman - Guest Columnist

A girl mowing the lawn finds the body of a man who had overdosed and died. A 13-year old boy gets into his dad’s heroin and dies of an overdose. A woman overdoses in her car with her three children, all under 10, watching her. A man is found dead in a bathroom stall at a McDonald’s with a needle in his arm.

All of these stories happened in Dayton within the last nine months.

Sadly, heartbreaking stories like these are all too common not just here but all across the country. Drug abuse is an epidemic, and more Americans are dying from drug overdoses now than ever before.

It’s especially taking a toll on Dayton. According to federal data, Dayton is the No. 1 city of its size for drug overdoses. Drug overdose deaths in Dayton have increased by 270 percent since 2010.

Back in the 1980s, the crack epidemic devastated Southwest Ohio. But even that tragedy pales in comparison to what we are dealing with today. According to an article in the New York Times, more than four times as many people are dying of overdoses now than did 30 years ago. If this isn’t an emergency, then I don’t know what is.

That’s why I believe Congress has an obligation to address this issue in an urgent manner.

The good news is that we’ve begun to do that. Congress recently passed into law full funding for two critical new laws to help fight this epidemic: the Comprehensive Addiction & Recovery Act, or CARA, and the 21st Century CURES Act, which provide a total of more than $700 million in new federal funding for anti-drug efforts.

With this funding, CARA, which I authored and which was signed into law last year, will now be able to strengthen our prevention efforts, expand access to treatment for addiction, and, for the first time in any federal law, support long-term recovery services. Each of the reforms in CARA will make a big difference for Dayton.

But we can’t stop there. I am now spearheading two new bipartisan bills with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) that would build on CARA. The first is the STOP Act, which would help stop dangerous synthetic drugs like fentanyl and carfentanil from being shipped into our country from places like China.

These drugs are so powerful that even getting a few specks on your skin can kill you. Drug dealers are mixing them with heroin on the streets to make the drugs more powerful and more addictive. Last year, fentanyl killed 251 people in Dayton, causing about two-thirds of all Dayton’s fatal overdoses.

Right now these drugs often come through the mail, because the post office doesn’t require any customs information such as who it’s coming from, where it’s going, or what’s in it. That information would help our law enforcement agents do their jobs and keep this poison out of Ohio. The STOP Act would simply make the post office require this digital information — just like private carriers do.

The second bill is called the Prescription Drug Monitoring Act, which would help stop the over-prescribing of prescription painkillers, which is one of the reasons this epidemic started in the first place. If this bill becomes law, states would be required to keep better track of prescription painkillers, keep them out of the wrong hands, and let doctors know if they see signs of addiction in one of their patients. That will help get treat addictions before they get worse and prevent new addictions from starting.

I also think we can make better use of the treatment facilities we have right here in Ohio. Under current law, the Medicaid program will only provide coverage for drug treatment if it takes place at small facilities with fewer than 16 treatment beds. As a result, hundreds of Ohioans are on waiting lists for treatment, getting sicker and more addicted. In fact, I’ve even learned of cases where people have died while waiting to get the help that they need. That’s why I’ve introduced legislation with Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois to increase that 16-bed limit to 40, so that no Ohioan has to continue to suffer on a waiting list.

This crisis affects every state, every city, and every county in this country, but especially Dayton. I’m going to keep fighting to turn the tide of addiction so that we can make Dayton healthier and safer.

By Rob Portman

Guest Columnist

This column originally appeared in the Dayton Daily News.

This column originally appeared in the Dayton Daily News.