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Congressman Gus Bilirakis

Representing the 12th District of Florida

We Are In This Fight Together

May 4, 2016
Bilirakis Blog

Florida has some of the most dangerous roads in the country. Many lives have been lost due to car accidents, and we all have horror stories trying to navigate the hazards of a daily commute. But, did you know, there have been more deaths related to drug abuse than car accidents in the U.S.?

Our nation is battling an epidemic and our state is on the front lines. Some of us may not see opioid abuse as clearly as we see a car accident, but our communities feel the effects. We must do everything we can to address this epidemic.

I am dedicated to this fight. I’ve worked on bipartisan provisions to address various aspects of abuse and addiction – countless experts and stakeholders have weighed in on solutions.

I worked to ensure that Pasco County was included as a High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, which enables law enforcement to receive additional resources to combat the spread of drug related crime.

Now, we are building on these efforts to fight abuse head on.

The Senate recently passed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, which includes language based on my Medicare Part D Patient Safety and Drug Abuse Prevention Act to address abuse within Medicare. This will create a drug management program for those suffering.

Last week, the Energy and Commerce committee advanced legislation that will:

  • establish a task force to review and update pain management best practices;
  • reauthorize a residential treatment program for pregnant women or postpartum women facing substance abuse;
  • direct HHS to study and report on information and resources available to youth athletes and families regarding the dangers of opioid use,
  • require the FDA to work with expert advisory committees before making critical product approval and labeling decisions;
  • amend the Controlled Substances Act to expand access to medication-assisted treatment; and
  • make naloxone, a drug that reverses the impact of opioids and can prevent overdose deaths, more available.

We hope to see these bills on the floor for a vote this month.

I am confident we can work together, in a bipartisan manner, to fight this epidemic. Every district in every state is affected by drug abuse.

This issue is especially important in Florida’s twelfth district. Pasco and Pinellas counties had some of the highest oxycodone-caused deaths – almost 200 in 2014. Our area had the second highest prescription drug death rate in the state in 2014. That is why, last year, I asked the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) Director Botticelli to visit our communities .

Just yesterday, we toured local facilities and met with law enforcement, key health care providers, and experts to determine the next steps in addressing this problem. I am confident, with their input, and the help of the ONDCP, we can help those who need it most.

These are real people battling addiction - parents, neighbors, and students in our communities.

Our Veterans population is particularly affected. Too often, the only treatment our Veterans are offered comes in a pill bottle. The overprescribing of opioids and other pain medications is a major aspect of the overall problem - it is especially common for our heroes.

The tragic death of Veteran Jason Simcakoski in a VA Medical Facility highlighted this problem and prompted Congressional action. His death, caused by a mixed drug toxicity and the combination of various medications, was an avoidable tragedy.

I introduced the Jason Simcakoski PROMISE Act to prevent further tragedies. This legislation provides Veterans safer, more personalized care to cope with their physical and mental wounds, and helps improve efficiency and transparency at the VA.

The Veterans’ Affairs Committee passed this important bill. I hope to see it advance quickly to help our heroes. This bill has the potential to inspire health care providers everywhere to consider alternative and more personalized care where opioids are generally prescribed.

Addiction and abuse occur for many reasons. We must consider every possible plan of attack to win this fight. These bills will bring us a few steps closer to saving lives. I am glad to be making progress, but I know there is more work to be done.

We are in this fight together and I will continue working to make our communities safer, healthier, and stronger.

To view this post on my Medium page, click here