Ending Our Opioid Epidemic
In 2014, the United States suffered through more drug overdose deaths than in any other year in history, and the majority of these involved opioids. The number of overdose deaths from prescription opioids in 2014 more than tripled since 2001, and the number of overdose deaths from heroin in 2014 was nearly six times the number in 2001. Heroin deaths in particular have been rapidly escalating year-over-year since 2010. The damage from drug overdoses has hit our rural communities particularly hard: these areas suffer from opioid-related overdose deaths at a rate 45 percent higher than urban ones.
For us to successfully combat this epidemic, we need to take swift action to reverse the systematic flaws that have allowed this problem to continue - and even unintentionally facilitated its growth. A major limitation of our current approach is that while the crisis targets our rural communities, the responses do little to address the barriers to care that prevent many in rural communities from getting the help and support they need. Too often, access to treatment is limited by shortages in trained professionals, long travel times, and even cultural issues of stigmatization. We need to tackle these problems head on, and my plan does just that with 5 key priority initiatives:
- Change our Approach to Pain Management: Emphasize policies and best practices that encourage necessary changes to how we handle pain management to lessen the number of patients who are introduced to opioids. This includes efforts to incentivize and promote the research and development of non-opioid pain killers.
- Effectively Treat Overdoses: Increase the availability of the medicine that reverses opioid-related overdoses and offer support for rural emergency response teams.
- Increase Access for Treatment & Recovery: Significantly expand access to treatment for those who are addicted by increasing the number of treatment facilities, creating incentives for qualified treatment centers to be established in rural communities, and using technology to help alleviate some of the barriers to access in rural communities.
- Crack Down on Illegal Drugs: Work to disrupt the spread of heroin, toughen penalties for synthetic drug manufacture and distribution, and target suppliers. Develop best practices and training unique to rural law enforcement, where distribution and trafficking can be harder to identify or intercede due to long distances and limited resources.
- Aggressive Media Campaign: Launch an aggressive media campaign to raise awareness, including campaigns designed specifically for rural communities, about the size and scope of the opioid epidemic to highlight the dangers of opioid use and provide information on how to seek treatment.