Tipton: Education, community support needed to fight opioid abuse epidemic
Author: Scott Tipton - July 13, 2016 - Updated: July 9, 2016
Widespread opioid abuse is having a tragic impact on communities in Colorado and across the nation. If I were to poll the entire Third Congressional District, I’m sure that most people could say that they have either been personally affected or know someone who has been affected by the growing abuse of prescription painkillers and heroin in our state.
Ensuring the health and safety of the members of our communities is a shared responsibility. This is why I recently hosted two roundtable discussions on the opioid abuse epidemic with community, health care, and law enforcement leaders in Alamosa and Pueblo.
I believe that the best solutions to problems like these are developed at the local level, so it was important for me to be able to bring stakeholders together around one table to talk about the steps the community is already taking to curb prescription drug and heroin abuse, as well as gather input on how the federal government can better support these efforts.
The discussion in Alamosa revolved around two major themes. First, the need for more investment in drug abuse prevention education for kids and their parents; and second, the importance of strong community support systems for individuals who are exiting residential drug treatment programs.
As the parents of two girls, Jean and I always tried to strike the right balance between taking an active role in our daughters’ lives and their decision-making while also giving them the independence they needed to grow into thriving adults. As I’m sure any parent can attest, this can be challenging. While our girls participated in the standard drug abuse prevention programs in school, Jean and I recognized the importance of keeping their schedules busy with after school activities and knowing how to spot signs of trouble.
During my roundtable discussion in Alamosa, many people spoke about the need for more targeted, age-appropriate in-school education about the risks of using opioids, as well as the need for safe places for kids to go after school and on the weekends. I also heard that there is a need for more educational programs for parents focused on strategies for talking about drugs and ways to identify warning signs of drug use.
The second area of focus during my roundtable in Alamosa was on community support for individuals who are transitioning out of in-patient drug treatment programs. Local law enforcement and drug treatment specialists expressed concern over the fact that patients often return to the same environment that led to their drug abuse in the first place, which in many cases leads to relapse. Connecting these individuals to out-patient treatment programs, monitoring their progress, and ensuring they are making use of community resources is vitally important to stopping the cycle of drug abuse.
In Congress, I’ve been working on policies to address both education and community support needs. The House and Senate continue to work to finalize legislation to fight the opioid epidemic. The draft of the legislation requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services to place a strong focus on opioid abuse prevention education programs, and it authorizes the Office of National Drug Control Policy to award communities with grants for prevention programs. It also authorizes HHS to provide grants to communities for building connections between drug treatment and recovery programs, health care providers, and other community support services. I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to finalize the legislation and send it to the president soon.
I’m committed to reversing the alarming trend of opioid abuse that we are seeing in our communities. The feedback I received in Alamosa and Pueblo will be extremely valuable as I continue to put forward solutions to address this epidemic, but these meetings only marked the beginning of my work. I’ll continue to hold discussions, share valuable feedback with my colleagues, and provide updates on the progress we’re making towards our prevention and treatment goals. We have a challenging task ahead of us, but when Coloradoans come together, we get results.