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Rep. Andy Kim gets backing from key groups for his legislation that aims to help end the opioid crisis.

There may not be any quick fixes to America’s opioid epidemic. But with opioid overdose deaths near all-time highs, solutions are welcome.

As one of his first acts in the New Year, Rep. Andy Kim introduced a package of three bills to combat the crisis. The New Jersey Democrat’s agenda gained steam last week as medical, addiction, and first responder groups offered public endorsements.

Kim announced that eight organizations, including the American Association of Medical Colleges and the National Council for Behavioral Health would formally back parts of his OPEN Agenda, a package of three bills aimed at increasing awareness of opioid and addiction solutions and transparency of the prescription opioid approval process.

“Raising awareness and finding solutions for our country’s opioid and addiction crisis requires bold action,” Kim said in a statement. “I’m proud to stand side by side with these great organizations on the front lines of this fight.”

Every day, an average of 130 Americans die from an opioid overdose, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Each year, opioids — including prescription pain killers and illegal drugs like heroin and illicitly manufactured fentanyl — kill more people than cars or guns.

Overall, a new CDC report finds drug overdose deaths declined in 2018, the first recorded fall since the dawn of the opioid crisis in the ’90s. However, the 67,000 U.S. deaths tied to drug overdoses in 2018 still ranks as the second-worst year all-time.

A deeper look at the data reveals further concerns. For synthetic opioids, which include drugs like fentanyl, fentanyl analogs, and tramadol, deaths increased by 10% year-over-year.

And in some states, drug overdose deaths rose significantly. In New Jersey, for example, total drug overdose deaths rose by more than 10%, from 30.1 deaths per 100,00 people in 2017 to 33.1 deaths per 100,000 people in 2018.

Drug Overdose Deaths in New Jersey

20172018YOY
# DeathsDeaths per 100,000# DeathsDeaths per 100,000% Change 2017-18Significant Change?
2,68530.02,90030.010.33Yes

Source: CDC

Kim represents New Jersey’s third district. He said his constituents affected by addiction are “desperately” looking for help.

To save lives, a key measure in Kim’s OPEN Agenda seeks to break the stigma on substance use disorder. 

“The idea that substance use is a disease of the will is very heavily entrenched in American ideology,” Dr. Kimberly Sue, a medical director of the Harm Reduction Coalition, told NPR

“We have these very strong puritanical roots and the idea that we make our bed, we lie in it, and you pull yourself up by your own bootstraps,” Sue said. “It pits people against each other.”

In other words, because society labels people who use drugs as bad people, users are often isolated and too ashamed or afraid to seek help. Their friends and family, likewise, are also less likely to seek help on their behalf.

In an effort to break that stigma, components of the OPEN Agenda would provide resources to medical or health professional schools to address stigma and bias, improve patient care, and increase preparedness with regards to substance use disorder and chronic pain treatment.

Other components of the legislation would create a public education campaign to raise public awareness around not just the harmfulness of opioids, but also the services available to people seeking treatment.

By introducing three bills and securing support from various stakeholders to see them through, Kim has established that the opioid crisis will remain a major focus for him during his second year in Congress.

In 2019, Kim helped secure $500 million to fund the development of new treatments for people struggling with opioid and addiction issues.

He said he’s looking forward to working with colleagues to get his OPEN agenda signed into law this year.