Column | Together we can tackle the crisis at home
The opioid crisis hits close to home for too many Arizonans. Since 2017, 20,432 Arizonans suffered from an opioid overdose and countless are suffering with destructive addiction today. During my 15-county listening tour I took in my first 90 days as a senator, I heard from every corner of the state about what was on Arizonans’ minds. Far too frequently, I heard about the tragic opioid crisis and how it is affecting families across the state.
Several Arizonans shared their heart wrenching personal stories with me. When I sat down with Jason Kouts, the mayor of Safford, he told me about his son Josiah’s struggle with opioid addiction and ultimately, his overdose death. My heart breaks for Jason and his family in the loss of their beloved son and all the missed potential from Josiah’s untimely passing. Sadly, so many Arizonans share a similar grief from this deadly epidemic. When I asked one rural community what local options were available for treatment of those inflicted with addiction, I was told basically none and that they end up in prison or dead. This is simply unacceptable.
For the first time in the U.S., Americans are more likely to die from an opioid overdose than in a car accident. Opioid overdoses take the lives of more than 130 people every single day in our country while others cycle in and out of prison, on the streets, or at home with no hope for relief. As we focus and crack down on illicit opioids, we must be reminded that it isn’t the only addiction crippling our neighbors and loved ones, and to be vigilant for what will fill the addiction void next. Several rural Arizona communities reported to me that meth is a bigger or increasing challenge for them, and the cartels will adjust their business model to peddle the next drug that comes along.
President Donald Trump and his administration have made progress combatting the crisis by cracking down on the flow of illicit drugs into the U.S. In January 2019, Customs and Border Protection in Nogales seized 254 pounds of fentanyl and 395 pounds of methamphetamine hidden in the floor of a tractor-trailer attempting to cross the border. Stopping the flow of illicit drugs across our border is crucial, but it is not the only solution to the addiction crisis we face.
With my staunch support, Congress passed major legislation to help turn the tide of this deadly epidemic last year. The SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act (H.R. 6) improves and expands access to treatment and recovery services, provides law enforcement with tools they need to get drugs out of our communities, and tackle the influx of synthetic drugs, like fentanyl, from China.
The funding bill for Fiscal Year 2019 provided $4.4 billion set aside for programs to respond to the opioid crisis. At my insistence, the Fiscal Year 2018 funding included a set aside that includes resources dedicated to rural and tribal regions hard hit by addiction with few options for local treatment.
Nonprofits and faith-based organizations like Phoenix Rescue Mission and Teen Challenge of Arizona, where I once served as a board member, provide effective recovery programs and a path of healing for individuals struggling with drug or alcohol addiction. They are on the front lines making a profound difference in lives every day.
Our work combating this addiction crisis at home is not finished. Opioid and other addictions are blind to race, gender, socioeconomic class, and age. These cancerous and destructive addictions impact all of us and the ones we love. We must work vigilantly together at the federal, state, local level of government in partnership with nonprofits, faith community, schools and families to educate, prevent, and treat addiction so that every Arizonan can thrive and live out their full potential.