Holland Sentinel: Addressing the youth opioid crisis

We have all seen the staggering numbers that demonstrate how deeply the opioid crisis has affected Michigan families. In our state, opioid deaths have nearly tripled over the past decade, tragically taking more than 1,700 lives in 2016 alone. While the use of black market drugs like fentanyl and heroin has skyrocketed, the rising cost of opioid reversal drugs puts this lifesaving treatment increasingly out of reach.

For many Michiganders, the numbers on the page are all too real. Our families, friends, and loved ones have all experienced the devastating impact of opioids. It does not matter where you live — no one in Michigan is untouched by this crisis.

That includes Michigan’s children. Each year, more and more Michigan youth lose their lives to opioids at a rate that has nearly doubled since 2011. But no statistic can convey the anguish of a mother as she buries her child after an overdose or the despair of a father as he watches his child end up in the streets, battling with addiction. The numbers do not capture the grief of a teenager who has to grow up too fast after the death of a sibling or the anxiety of a student who sees an empty school desk where her best friend no longer sits.

Despite the serious impact the opioid crisis has on Michigan’s youth, they are often left behind as we develop tools to fight this epidemic. I am working with my Senate colleagues to pass legislation that will improve Michigan’s resources for preventing and treating opioid addiction — and ensuring that youth are part of the equation.

Last November, I introduced the bipartisan Youth Opioid Use Treatment Help (YOUTH) Act with Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia to help improve access to safe and effective medication-assisted treatment for young people. The bill would also expand a substance use disorder treatment program to reach young adults, children and adolescents.

I am pleased that my YOUTH Act provisions advanced in the Senate last month as part of broader legislation to address the opioid crisis—The Opioid Crisis Response Act. This extensive legislative package supports research, prevention, treatment, and recovery programs for combatting opioid addiction.

It is critical that Congress and the President get this bill signed into law, but we cannot stop there. This epidemic affects Michigan communities from every angle, and we need innovative approaches to keep fighting it.

For example, I also recently joined Senator Debbie Stabenow to urge the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to take immediate action to reduce price hikes in lifesaving opioid reversal drugs. We cannot allow police officers, firefighters, public health providers, and other first responders to be priced out of keeping emergency medications like naloxone readily available.

As we continue the fight against opioids, I am committed to pursuing urgently needed solutions and resources for Michiganders threatened by this devastating crisis. Most importantly, I am committed to fighting alongside all of you as we work to beat back this epidemic and heal communities across our state.

Gary Peters is serving in his first term representing Michigan in the United States Senate. He currently serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and the Joint Economic Committee.


By:  Senator Gary Peters
Source: Holland Sentinel