Weekly Column

Last week, President Trump declared the opioid epidemic to be a national emergency. This declaration echoes what many of us in Ohio know to be true: rising dependence and deaths due to opioid abuse is becoming a serious problem. 

In a disturbing development, coroners’ offices in Ohio even started to run out of room, resorting to bringing in cold storage trailers to house bodies and asking funeral homes to accommodate others. 

The Ohio Department of Health reports that nearly 2,600 Ohioans died from opioid-related drug overdoses, and all of the data we have from 2016 and 2017 indicates that the annual number of deaths is only growing. 

This public health crisis has serious implications for Ohio, and the president’s recognition of the severity of the crisis brings with it the potential for greater action in the fight against the opioid epidemic. 

I am quite pleased with this development, as well as the issuance of a preliminary report by the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis on how best to address the epidemic. For too long, we have watched loved ones and neighbors succumb to the specter of addiction and been robbed of them far too soon. 

If we are to fight the opioid epidemic, then we must avail ourselves of every option open to us. 

Already, Congress has made substantial efforts to address this problem. Last year, Congress passed the 21st Century Cures Act, which was signed into law in December. This legislation established a new Treasury account known as the Account For the State Response to the Opioid Abuse Crisis. 

This account makes available $1 billion in grants over the next two fiscal years to assist state responses to the opioid epidemic. 

These grants can be used to improve prescription drug monitoring programs, implement and support access to treatment and prevention programs, and train health care practitioners to better identify substance abuse in patients. What is even more important for Ohio is the legislation gives preferential access to these grants to states with a higher prevalence of opioid abuse relative to other states. 

In the current Congress, members of Ohio’s Congressional delegation are stepping up as leaders in this fight. 

Rep. David Joyce introduced the STOP OD Act, which enables the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to award grants supporting education on abuse prevention and the nature of addiction, as well as treatment for those who suffer from addiction. Rep. Pat Tiberi also introduced the STOP Act, legislation meant to stop the import of fentanyl, carfentanil, and other synthetic opioids. I am cosponsors of both bills. 

In my time back in Ohio, I have made it a point to meet with Ohioans who overcame their addiction and soak up their remarkable stories of their path to recovery. Defeating the opioid epidemic will take more than just throwing money at the problem. We also need to understand why some individuals were successful in battling addiction while others were not. Only once we have these answers can we implement the best, most effective solutions. 

In my conversations, I have learned how powerful community- and church-based solutions and programs have been to restoring the hope and health of members of our community. I look forward to implementing solutions based on what these conversations reveal. 

The fight against the opioid epidemic will not be won easily nor quickly. It will take time, and it will require intense attention and effort. Despite the scale of the challenge, we cannot afford to back down and accept defeat. I am hopeful that with their right strategies and the political and individual will, we can overcome this challenge together. I look forward to seeing President Trump lead on this issue. 

The Renacci Report

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