I’m going to make an educated guess: if each state gathered all of its heroin addicts in one place, many of them would discover — as New Jersey has — “Herointown” would be among its five largest. If we expand this new borough to include all prescription opioid addicts, “Opioidtown” would probably usurp each state’s largest sprawling metropolitan city. As the so-called War on Drugs rages on, U.S. communities are beginning to realize that the federal government’s flooding of inner cities with heroin in the late ‘60s and crack in the early ‘80s was just the tip of the iceberg. Even lily-white suburbia is now embroiled in the tragic prescription drug epidemic that has become the plague of the 2000s. Evidence of this plague is in the headlines. Last month saw the tragic loss of 9-year-old Isaiah Ward, allegedly caused by an addict driving under the influence of heroin in Atlanta. There was also the unexpected death of international superstar Prince, allegedly due to an overdose of prescription drugs.
In response, this week U.S. lawmakers are debating several bipartisan bills put forth to address the sharp rise in drug addiction. One such bill, the Opioid Review Modernization Act, was sponsored by New Jersey Republican Representative Leonard Lance and New York Democrat Representative Sean Patrick Maloney.
“Studies have shown health care providers write nearly 300 million opioid prescriptions a year in this country,” Lance said. “That number is truly staggering.”
Perhaps more attention should also be given to state-level actions recommended by Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in their report on the problem of opioid addiction and death. Earlier this year District Attorney Paul Howard of Fulton County in Atlanta made it clear that the problem requires all hands on deck to address a heroin problem that has gotten out of control.
“We are staring at a crisis that gives every indication that it will grow worse,” Howard said.
Lance’s legislation would require the FDA to look at the benefits and risks of opioids, and how that information is given to doctors and patients. It also asks the FDA to encourage the development of opioids that would not be abused.