Mia Love: The opioid addiction crisis should not be underestimated

Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune Volunteer Damon Harris shows users how to use naloxone, a medication approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to prevent overdose by opioids such as heroin, as he helps members of the Utah Harm Reduction Coalition as they exchange needles on 500 west between 200 south and 300 south in Salt Lake City, Thursday July 27, 2017. Users are able to exchange used needles and also receive naloxone during the exchange. The state's increased attention to the Rio Grande neighborhood comes as Utah's leading needle-exchange provider is under fire for handing out more needles than it collects. Mindy Vincent, founder of the coalition, says the goal was never to break even, and that optics aside, needle exchange is proven to reduce the spread of disease among IV drug users.

I recently met with Harry and Jean Childs from Utah. They are raising two of their grandchildren after a heroin overdose killed their daughter.

They personally shared with me their struggles with keeping the youngsters away from the drugs that killed their mother, keeping them in school and getting resources to cope with the trauma and chaos that accompanies addiction: arrests, abuse and other negative effects of the drug abuse lifestyle. They feel they’re losing the battle.

Just minutes from my home, in Elk Ridge, I recently learned of a case where a boy in the third grade was living with a mother and stepfather who are addicts. He made meals for himself and 2-year-old brother, got himself to school, essentially parented himself.

Because his mother was addicted while pregnant with the boy’s newborn baby sister, the baby was born addicted. Police say in order to hide the baby’s withdrawal symptoms from the hospital staff, the parents rubbed crushed pain medication on her gums. The children are now in protective custody.

I am currently working with more than a dozen Utah agencies who are desperate for leadership, cooperation and resources to deal with a growing number people facing these kinds of struggles.

Opioid addiction is a deadly, devastating and costly crisis that just keeps getting worse in Utah. I am committed to continue working with both Republicans and Democrats to help get a handle on this complicated issue.

Utah’s usage of opioids has been referred to as an “insatiable appetite,” a “catastrophe” “national emergency,” that “traps people” in a downward spiral. In fact, Utah has the seventh-highest drug overdose rate in the nation right now. Let that sink in. The strong mixture of powerful opioids on the black market increases the chances for an accidental overdose, which is multiplying the deaths.

We’ve all heard the many tragic stories: A promising athlete who got hooked on painkillers after an injury, a mom who experimented with ways to cope with day-to-day stress, a hard-working laborer whose struggle with a chronic work injury turned into a fight against addiction, and even death.

As a member of Congress, I am responding to this crisis. On Oct. 11, I testified at a hearing dedicated to the opioid epidemic. That day, we helped solidify a $650 million increase in funding for substance abuse and prevention and treatment programs, above the 2016 funding. Congress also recently provided $6 billion for the overall effort, and more legislation is in the works. Congress also continues to investigate the many facets of the problem: fentanyl a synthetic opioid; alleged pill dumping and patient brokering.

In 2017, Congress passed two major initiatives including the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) and the 21st Century Cures Act. These provide critical resources for combating the crisis, including improving opioid treatment access, education for health care professions and risk education for athletes, research and treatment for women who are pregnant and facing addiction, treatment for newborns whose mothers are addicts.

I am listening to the cries for help, and I fully realize that opioid addiction should not be underestimated. The stakes are too high.

(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Congresswoman Mia Love speaks to the Salt Lake Tribune editorial board Thursday Feb. 22 2018.

Rep. Mia Love, a Republican, represents the 4th Congressional District of Utah.