We’re making progress, but the battle to defeat the opioid epidemic is far from over

“Amanda was a beautiful girl full of life.” Those are the words of Michael Gray, speaking about his beloved daughter as part of a roundtable discussion before the Energy and Commerce Committee in 2018 to hear directly from patients and families who have felt the devastation of the opioid crisis.

Amanda, just 24 years old, was killed last year by pure fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. Fentanyl is so deadly that a small amount—as much as a few grains of salt—is enough to kill.

It’s another beautiful life cut short by the devastating disease of addiction and another family turned upside down by an epidemic that took more American lives over the past year alone than the entire Vietnam War. That is the heartbreaking story of the opioid crisis that has gripped our nation and one I have heard countless times at roundtables and town halls throughout my Oregon district.

Thankfully, this story is far from finished.

Last year, President Donald Trump signed my legislation—the Support for Patients and Communities Act—into law as part of our efforts to stem the tide of addiction and save lives. This represented the largest congressional effort to combat a single drug crisis in history.

This law is already making significant impacts in the fight against the opioid crisis. Key provisions of the law are being implemented on the ground just as new preliminary data show a decline in drug overdose deaths for the first time in nearly 30 years.

We cannot allow this progress to turn into complacency. Read the pages of your local newspapers, hear the words of parents like Michael Gray, and it’s clear our work is far from over.

Fortunately, we do not have to go back to the drawing board to continue the progress made in the Support Act. Two critical, bipartisan pieces of legislation that passed alongside the Support Act in the House last year were unfortunately never considered by the Senate. Both have been reintroduced this Congress.

First, the Stop the Importation and Trafficking of Synthetic Analogues Act, introduced by Rep. John Katko (R-N.Y.), aims to give law enforcement the tools they need to help get illicit synthetic drugs, like fentanyl, off our streets without compromising important uses for public health and research. This legislation would go a long way in preventing fentanyl from taking the lives of people like Amanda Gray.

Second, the Overdose Prevention and Patient Safety Act from Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) would help address the opioid crisis by ensuring that healthcare providers have appropriate access to the full medical history of patients suffering from substance-use disorders. The Trump administration recently announced a proposal to reform substance-use disorder confidentiality law and regulations, collectively known as 42 CFR Part 2, but congressional action is needed to fully and permanently change the law so providers can effectively treat patients with substance-use disorder.

Finally, we need to continue the bipartisan investigations that began last Congress into the bad actors contributing to the spread of this crisis. While our investigations—into fentanyl, pill dumping, patient brokering and drug manufacturers—left no stone unturned, we must continue to go after those responsible for the epidemic. This work is too important; the truth must be exposed.

In the battle against the opioid crisis, we cannot relent in our next offensive even after a great victory. Reining in fentanyl, improving substance-use disorder care coordination, finding nonaddictive alternatives to treat patients in pain, and continuing to investigate root causes of the crisis are the next fronts in this fight. Motivated by the stories of people like Amanda, we will continue to take an all-hands-on-deck, bipartisan approach to stem the tide of addiction and save lives.

More commentaries from members of the 116th Congress on the state of healthcare

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