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Saturday, January 28, 2023

How Congress can prevent opioid addiction before it starts

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Take it from me when I say we are not doing enough to prevent individuals from going down the road to opioid addiction. While nearly 81,000 people lost their lives to an opioid overdose in 2021, it has become easy to forget the human impact behind numbers like this. As a mother and an advocate, I am urging Capitol Hill to honor the names behind the crisis and do more to protect those at risk of addiction. For Congress, this means passing bipartisan legislation that would prevent addiction by increasing access to and use of safer options for pain management.

I lost my son Will to opioids in 2012. He was kind, caring, and a good son and friend. Unfortunately, he was also addicted to drugs — and passed away when he was only 25 years old from a heroin overdose. Following his death, I created the Will Bright Foundation to turn our family’s pain into purpose. The organization helps those suffering from addiction with transitional living, counseling, and job readiness training.

Through my years working with those fighting addiction, I often wondered why our elected leaders in Washington were not doing more to prevent opioid addiction before it started.

On top of the human impact of the crisis, the economic toll of opioids in the U.S. was nearly $1.5 trillion in 2020 alone. With so many resources in the past going to reactive measures like expanding access to naloxone and medication-assisted treatments, it is time we start looking in a different direction for more proactive solutions.

Many of the individuals we support are working hard to fight addiction but face a challenging reality if they require surgery or are experiencing pain. Opioids are often the first — and only — option for patients due to current Medicare reimbursement policy. This inadvertently incentivizes prescribing opioids and leaves safe and effective non-opioid approaches out of reach for many patients and their healthcare providers.

Congress has recognized this gap in our response with the NOPAIN Act. The Non-Opioids Prevent Addiction in the Nation (NOPAIN) Act (H.R. 3259/S. 586) would expand access to FDA-approved non-opioid pain management options in outpatient surgical settings. If passed, patients would have greater access to non-opioid approaches to managing acute pain. The legislation does nothing to limit access to prescription opioids or interfere with how providers treat pain. Passing the NOPAIN Act centers around one thing: patient and provider choice.

I commend Reps. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.), David McKinley (R-W.Va.), Ann Kuster (D-N.H.), and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) and Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) for championing this legislation. To date, over 165 members of Congress have joined them to sign on in support of the legislation. I encourage all members of Congress to support the NOPAIN Act, including my own representatives, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and Rep. Gary Palmer (R-Ala.).

I have seen the road to addiction recovery as both a parent and now in my role at the foundation — and it is long, winding, and full of bumps. When I think of my son Will, I would hope that if he were still alive today, he would be given all the resources possible to fight his addiction. Losing a child is one of the most devastating things you can have happen as a parent — only made worse by realizing it was caused by something completely avoidable.

Our leaders on Capitol Hill need to do everything they can to point us in a different direction before more lives are lost — right now, we are losing 220 sons and daughters every single day. The NOPAIN Act is the long-awaited solution our country needs to curb the opioid addiction crisis.

Lisa Bright is the CEO of the Will Bright Foundation.

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