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Opioid addiction often starts inadvertently. An accident on the farm, a sports-related injury or a routine dental procedure can result in prolonged pain that requires prescription pain medication. During the late 1990s, medical professionals prescribed prescription drugs at higher rates to treat pain because they were effective. What they didn’t know then was how addictive these drugs were. The aftermath has been devastating.

Over the last several years, widespread misuse of opioids has led to increases in addiction and overdoses. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), more than 100 people in the United States die from opioid overdosing every day. In 2015, more than 33,000 Americans died from an opioid overdose and 2 million Americans suffered from substance abuse disorders related to prescription opioid pain relievers. Roughly 21 to 29 percent of patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain misused them and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimates that nearly 12 million Americans ages 12 and older misused prescription pain medication in 2016. Midwestern states saw opioid overdoses increase 70 percent from July 2016 through September 2017.

Iowa providers wrote approximately 2.3 million opioid prescriptions in 2013. Opioids contributed to more than 200 deaths last year, which is a state record. By contrast, in 2000 Iowa had less than 50 opioid-related deaths. There were 86 opioid overdose deaths in Iowa in 2016 and opioids caused 99 overdose deaths in 2017 according to the Iowa Department of Public Health.

If these statistics sound alarming, it’s because they are. The opioid epidemic not only impacts individuals, but entire families and communities. It doesn’t discriminate. It reaches people of all backgrounds. It puts strain on the health care and criminal justice systems as well as the economy. The CDC estimates that the total “economic burden” of prescription opioid misuse throughout the country is $78.5 billion a year.

There is no quick fix to this problem. However, there are steps that can be taken to decrease the impact of the opioid epidemic and help put those suffering under addiction on a better path forward. Local communities and nonprofit organizations dedicated to treatment and prevention of opioid addiction are on the front lines of this effort. Congress has also been working to address the problem through legislative solutions.

For several years, lawmakers from both parties in the Senate and the House of Representatives have joined together to introduce bills that would reduce the use and supply of opioids in the United States, encourage recovery for those suffering from addiction, provide support for caregivers and families of addicted people and drive innovations that will help secure long-term solutions to the problem.

This week, the Senate passed the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018. It’s a bipartisan package of more than 70 proposals from five different congressional committees, including the Senate Judiciary Committee, of which I'm chairman. Each proposal focuses on different parts of the problem, including transparency in opioid prescribing, family-focused residential treatment options, a national drug take back program and prescription drug tracking. The Opioid Crisis Response Act provides $4.7 billion specifically to address the opioid crisis. One billion of that is for grants to states like Iowa, to help implement local programs that will have a direct impact on communities.

The Opioid Crisis Response Act builds on the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) of 2016, which authorized nearly $900 million over a five-year period to enhance prevention, education, treatment, recovery and law enforcement efforts.

The opioid epidemic is complicated and widespread. It won’t be fixed overnight, but with sustained cooperation from federal, state and local lawmakers, along with community and nonprofit organizations and law enforcement, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

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Grassley, R-Iowa, is chairman of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. 

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