Congress votes on opioid legislation

Published 9:17 pm Monday, June 18, 2018

Just weeks after the Troup County Board of Commissioners voted to join a lawsuit against opioid manufactures, a series of bills are being discussed before the U.S. Congress to address what many are calling an epidemic. 

The legislation is meant to combat a variety of issues related to opioid use, including aspects of law enforcement, treatment and prevention.

“That is a crisis that effects every single county in every single state in this nation, and I think that Congress has seen this,” Ferguson said. “This is very real. There is not a single member of Congress who represents an area that hasn’t been touched by this.”

In Troup County, there are 98.9 opioid prescriptions for every 100 citizens according to the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta. That puts Troup County at one of the higher prescription rates for the state, though some counties have significantly higher rates.

“Every American family has probably had some experience either indirectly in their family or with their friends and families and neighbors,” Ferguson said. “This is a widespread epidemic, and I am proud of the work that is going on at Congress right now.”

Roughly 39 bills were scheduled in the first week alone, and dozens more will be considered this week. The bills aim to create grants to help hospitals open opioid treatment centers, a program to repay student loans for some drug treatment workers and encourage health care providers to show in their records when a patient has substance abuse problems.

“There are 57 bills that deal with everything from treatment and recovery to prevention to protecting communities and — quite candidly — a very tough drug that we are fighting which is fentanyl,” Ferguson said. “It is a very powerful anesthetic type drug that is responsible for way too many deaths. We are covering the gamut with this and recognizing that we need a multi-faceted approach.”

According to Ferguson, some of the legislation will also address narcotics being shipped into the country.

“This legislation enables people in the country — whether they are health care providers, whether they are law enforcement, whether they are physicians, whether they are treatment facilities,” Ferguson said. “It gives them the tools that they need and the green light to go ahead and get the work done. It doesn’t mean that we need to stop doing research on this, but one of the most important things is to do the things we already know how to go ahead and do.”

Ferguson emphasized the use of proven programs like the Troup County Drug Court which has seen success in decreasing repeat offenses in those participating in the program.

“Treatment and recovery is vitally important, but prevention is just as important,” Ferguson said. “One of the things that we’ve got to deal with is on the healthcare provider side. We’ve got to gain access to non-addictive opioid alternatives, and we have also got to get our hands around the prescribing habits of many people in making sure that doctors have access to the tools that they need so that their only option many times isn’t to prescribe a narcotic.”

Ferguson is one of four dentists currently in Congress, and there are several other legislators with medical backgrounds as well. These backgrounds help inform their decisions on what works and what doesn’t work in terms of pain management — the main reason that opioids are currently prescribed and too often abused.

Locally, officials have discussed how to fund recovery programs and products like Narcan, which has become essential for law enforcement facing the epidemic on a daily basis. Ferguson said that the legislation currently under consideration will address many of those concerns.