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Subcommittees Examine the Impact of Opioids on Communities

The Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education, chaired by Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN) and the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Development of the Committee on Education and the Workforce, chaired by Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-KY), today held a joint hearing on “Close to Home: How Opioids are Impacting Communities”.

At the opening of the hearing, Chairman Rokita discussed the enormity of the impact the opioid health emergency is having on American families, communities, and the economy as a whole.

“The issue of drug overdoses due to opioids is only getting worse as deaths related to opioids have quadrupled since 1999. In 2016 alone, there were approximately 64,000 drug overdoses. This means that the opioid crisis is claiming the lives of 175 Americans per day,” Chairman Rokita said. “It is one thing to read the statistics and accounts in the news about communities in the midst of the opioid crisis, but these accounts do not compare to the real voices we need to hear from in order to understand this crisis.”

“When it comes to finding solutions for workforce development needs, and creating more good-paying jobs, we look to state and local entities who are leading by example, and the opioid crisis is no different,” Chairman Guthrie added. “Our witnesses before us have learned a lot in their communities about how to spot opioid abuse and implement successful forms of treatment. It is important we hear about these experiences in order to inform the Congressional response to the crisis.”

Members heard from Dr. David Cox, the Superintendent and Executive Officer of the County Board of Education in Allegany County, Maryland.  Cox described the change he has seen in Allegany County schools as the opioid public health emergency has worsened. 

“I have been the superintendent since 2009, but have seen a dramatic change within the past five years, with each successive year getting progressively worse. Among the first impacts we noticed was that our usually strong elementary attendance began to decline. When I talked with our principals about this a few years ago, they told me that they attributed much of the decline in attendance to parents not getting up and getting their kids to school because of drug use, and how difficult it was to make contact with parents to talk about attendance, achievement, and grades,” Cox said.

Cox then went on to describe the full extent of how opioid usage is directly impacting children born in Allegany County.

“Our local health department shared that this year 18% of all newborns in Allegany County are born drug affected, and this statistic does not include those children who may have been exposed to alcohol during their pre-natal development. That is one in five of all children born here,” he stated.

Toni Miner, a Family Support Partner for the Child and Youth Leadership Commission from Jefferson County, CO spoke with the subcommittees about her personal story overcoming drug addiction, and how her own experience puts her in a unique position to help other families and children affected by opioid addiction.

Highlighting the importance of a whole-family approach, she testified that “addiction is a family disease and if the whole family is not treated history will continue to repeat itself.” Through her work as a family support partner, her goal “is to empower each family with the skills and knowledge to advocate for their own supports and connections within the community, and identify the best ways to ensure their voice is heard by the professionals they work with.”

In addition to helping adults with addictions, she spoke about the importance of prevention efforts. “We must educate our children of their own risk of being addicted. I talk with my children about it often, because it is not something that they think about every day. We need to have a prevention education for the children of adult addicts.” Ms. Miner also discussed how collaboration among community agencies is essential. “Families interact with multiple systems with their own requirements [and] processes and it is essential that these systems work together to ensure families get the help they need,” she said.

Tim Robinson, the Founder and CEO of Addiction Recovery Care in Louisa, KY, offered his perspective on how to aide people struggling with opioid addiction overcome their illness and get their futures back on track.

“Everyone is looking for a silver bullet to our addiction crisis. There is no single intervention that alone is a silver bullet,” Robinson said. “Addiction recovery requires a whole person approach which starts with identifying those in addiction, intervening with treatment, investing in their economic future through education and workforce development, and inspiring them to join the effort to do for others what was done for me: help another person discover their destiny and walk out their own recovery.”

Data indicates that the worst of the opioid public health emergency is still to come. As this critical situation continues to unfold, the Committee on Education and the Workforce will continue to hear from those combating this health emergency in their communities. Families and communities are in need of stability, health and healing, and the Committee on Education and the Workforce is committed to doing its part. 

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