In September, the Tennessee Department of Health released some disturbing statistics about opioid overdoses in our state. 1,263 Tennesseans died from opioid overdoses in 2014 alone, meaning nearly 100 more deaths were caused by opioid overdoses across the state last year than in 2013. I am deeply concerned by this epidemic and believe we need to take action in light of these staggering numbers.
As an OBGYN, I’ve seen firsthand what addiction can do not only to adults, but also to their children, especially newborn babies. In Tennessee, too many newborns go through extremely dangerous withdrawals at no fault of their own. According to the TN Department of Health, 590 cases of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) were reported to the state from January 1, 2015 through August 29, 2015. NAS is the clinical term used when a newborn has been exposed to opiate drugs while in the womb. Sadly, the highest rates of NAS reported in the state have been in Sullivan County and the Northeast Tennessee region.
Tennessee isn’t the only state around the country struggling with opioid addictions and overdoses. According to a report published in the Journal of American Medical Association, opioid addiction increased to .9 percent in 2013, up from .6 percent in 2003. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that, “deaths from prescription painkillers have quadrupled since 1999, killing more than 16,000 people in 2013.” Also disturbing, the CDC found that in 2013 nearly two million Americans over the age of 12 had abused or were addicted to opioids.
While some action has been taken on the state level, it’s clear this is a growing national epidemic. As co-chair of the House GOP Doctors Caucus, I believe physicians in Congress are in a position to present responsible solutions, and I’m confident we can work across party lines to address this serious issue. Recently, the Doctors Caucus met with Surgeon General Vivek Murthy to discuss this and many other public health issues. SG Murthy told us that combating opioid abuse would be a priority, and I look forward to the Surgeon General’s report on substance abuse which should be released next year.
Earlier this year, I partnered with Dr. Ami Bera, a Democrat from California to introduce H.R. 2463, the Dispose Responsibly of your Pills (DROP) Act. The DROP Act would authorize the Attorney General to work with the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy to establish grant programs to encourage proper disposal of unwanted or expired medications. Still, there is much more to be done to prevent this serious problem from growing further.
I strongly believe there is an opportunity to address opioid addiction in a bipartisan way, and I look forward to working with the Surgeon General and physicians in Congress – both Republican and Democrat – to push for lifesaving policy changes. This issue is too important to ignore, to wait to address or to let politics prevent real reforms, and I will continue to engage on this serious threat to public health.
As always, feel free to contact my office if I can be of assistance to you or your family.
U.S. Representative Phil Roe – 1st District of Tennessee