Kennedy: A simple way to battle the opioid crisis

WASHINGTON – Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) penned this op-ed for The Jena Times. It outlines a new way for Louisianians to get dangerous opioids off the streets and make their communities safer.

Louisiana has had a tough couple of years. Hurricanes, floods, freezes, and the coronavirus slammed our state, but another crisis also continued to harm our communities. In the middle of lockdowns and lost jobs, the opioid epidemic got worse.

Though the pandemic may have intensified Louisiana’s drug problem, it didn’t create it. Drug abuse has tormented Louisiana for years—and opioids have played a large role.

The numbers are astounding. Drug overdoses claimed the lives of 1,140 Louisianians in 2018, and opioid overdoses accounted for 40 percent of those deaths—that’s 444 lives lost in a single year. The opioid blight has struck central Louisiana especially hard: From March to July of this year, Rapides Parish saw nearly 160 opioid overdoses. That’s more than an overdose a day.

How are these deadly drugs seeping into our communities? Very often, opioid victims aren’t getting their supplies from gang members but from the medicine cabinets of families and friends. In fact, half of all opioid abusers get their pills from prescriptions that belong to their loved ones.

Opioid abuse has ravaged our state in part because the drugs are easy to access. For every 100 Louisianians, medical providers wrote an incredible 79.4 opioid prescriptions in 2018. The national average was only 51.4, landing Louisiana among the top five states for prescriptions per capita.

The crisis isn’t limited to any one state, though. Between 1999 and 2017, more than 200,000 Americans died from prescription opioid-related overdoses. That’s roughly twice the number of Americans who died in World War I.

The good news is that Louisianians finally have another tool to get prescription opioids safely off their streets. The Dispose Unused Medications and Prescription (DUMP) Opioids Act will make it easier for Americans to get rid of prescription medicines they no longer need without putting other people in harm’s way.

It seemed clear to me that we can reduce access to addictive substances by allowing people to take pain medicines they don’t need to special drop boxes that are coming to Veterans’ Administration (VA) medical centers across the country. I introduced the bill to open those drop boxes to the general public earlier this year, where it made its way through Congress and onto the president’s desk this July.

With the DUMP Opioids Act now law, entire communities will be able to clear out their medicine cabinets and dispose of unused pills at secure VA drop boxes near them, so others can’t get to and abuse the drugs. The law also requires the VA Secretary to educate the general public about the opportunity to use these disposal sites so everyone can make the most of the new resource.

Louisianians work hard and put family first, so it’s been heartbreaking to watch opioid addiction tighten its grip here. One of the most effective ways we can combat the epidemic is by shrinking the supply of prescription opioids through secure drop sites. The DUMP Opioids Act makes it easier for Louisiana to do that by increasing our access to secure disposal sites, making our loved ones safer by putting more dangerous drugs out of reach forever.

The op-ed is available here.

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