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The opioid epidemic: enough is enough

By U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar
We have a crisis in our country. A crisis that claims more lives than car crashes. A crisis that rips apart families of all different backgrounds. Killing 28,648 Americans in 2014, this crisis is prescription drug and heroin abuse. And with deaths increasing nearly sixfold since 2000, it is a crisis on the rise.
This deadly trend has struck at the heart of Minnesota. In 2014, 317 Minnesotans died after overdosing on opioids — a class of drug that includes heroin and prescription drugs. Daughters, sons, brothers, sisters, mothers, and fathers: all taken too soon.
Many of these heartbreaking stories begin with a legal prescription. The person is prescribed painkillers by a doctor, and they become addicted before they even know it. Many who run out of the pills turn to heroin as a cheaper alternative. In fact, four out of five heroin users start out misusing prescription painkillers. The very pills that were supposed to ease their pain end up taking their lives.
That is why I introduced the bipartisan Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) with three other senators to encourage states and local communities to pursue proven strategies in the fight against addiction. The bipartisan bill includes my provision to strengthen prescription drug monitoring programs to help states track data on controlled substances that are dispensed. These monitoring programs can be a strong, effective tool in combatting drug abuse and should be used by all doctors and pharmacists.
CARA would also encourage more people to take advantage of prescription drug disposal. Many people have leftover prescription pills lying around their homes. Patients go to see the dentist for surgery and they prescribe them something for pain. After their initial recovery, some patients are left with unused pills sitting in the medicine cabinet where they are vulnerable to misuse. In fact, teenagers abuse prescription drugs more than any other drug and the majority of teens who use these drugs get them for free.
CARA would tackle this issue pill by pill. It builds on successful legislation that I worked to pass with Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas in 2010 to make it easier for Americans to get rid of their unused drugs. The legislation provided consumers with more safe and responsible ways to dispose of unused prescription medications and controlled substances. By further expanding disposal sites for unwanted prescription medications, CARA would give families new options to get rid of leftover pills before they fall into the wrong hands and fuel abuse.
Earlier this month, the White House announced new funding to address opioid addiction and CARA passed the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill will now head to the full Senate for a vote. This bipartisan bill represents a major step forward in a long and difficult journey towards ending this addiction crisis. I will continue working to make sure it becomes law.