COLUMN: Federal legislation seeks to find a remedy for prescribed addiction
How did opioid and heroin abuse become such a widespread issue? The answer to this question is complex and multifaceted; however, too often opioid abuse begins in a hospital emergency room or doctor's office.
Heroin is illegal, but opioid pills such as OxyContin are Food and Drug Administration-approved and are used in many hospitals and doctor's offices throughout the country to treat and manage pain. One is illegal and the other is not, but the chemical makeup of both is highly similar and stimulates similar reactions in the human brain. Along with an increase in pain tolerance comes a sense of euphoria and in many cases, an addiction is born.
Once opioid pills are no longer available, heroin is what many who have become addicted resort to next. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, of those who began abusing opioids in the 2000s, a whopping 75 percent reported that their first opioid was a prescription drug.
In response to the overwhelming number of people who have become addicted through prescribed opioids, the Colorado Hospital Association, in collaboration with the American College of Emergency Physicians, established a pilot program in 10 hospital emergency departments across Colorado, with the goal of reducing the distribution of prescribed opioids by 15 percent over a six-month period of time.
The program was so successful that the 10 participating sites were actually able to more than double their goal and achieve a 36 percent reduction.
The success of this program inspired me to help introduce the Alternatives to Opioids in the Emergency Department Act, otherwise known as the ALTO Act, in the House of Representatives earlier this year. This critical legislation would establish a demonstration program to test pain-management protocols to limit the use of opioids in hospital emergency rooms, as well as provide grant funding to build these programs.
It is important to note that this program would in no way try to prevent doctors from treating their patient's pain. This program simply aims to identify effective pain-management methods that can serve as alternatives to opioids, so that fewer Americans fall victim to addiction. Colorado has the 12th highest rate of abuse of prescription opioids in the United States, and I am optimistic that, once passed, this legislation will help to reduce opioid abuse both in Colorado and nationwide.
To reduce the risk of abuse, it's also critically important to ensure that prescribed opioids don't fall into the wrong hands. At some point, almost everybody has undergone a procedure and brought home pain medication. Many times, this medication is not fully used and the leftover pills sit in a medicine cabinet for years.
The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids shows that one in four teens reports having misused or abused a prescription drug at least once in their lifetime, and many of these teens gain access to these prescription drugs from their parents' medicine cabinets.
To help be a part of the solution and ensure that prescription drugs don't fall into the wrong hands, dispose of excess prescription drugs in drop boxes in Eagle County, located inside the Eagle County Justice Center in Eagle, the Vail Police Department in Vail and the Avon Police Department in Avon.
I remain committed to the fight against opioid abuse and will continue to listen to and work with the impacted families, law-enforcement officers and health care providers so that we can put an end to this heartbreaking crisis once and for all.