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Benson Talks Opioid Crisis

Steven Andrews

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New Hampshire

The current opioid crisis has taken no distinctions as to race, class, or creed as it has struck.  It was borne out of a serious problem within the medical industry...pill mill doctors prescribing drugs in unsafe quantities for what they did.  But, as usual, the government managed to misapply the wrong answer to the problem.

The underlying problem in the crisis was, in fact, over-prescription of painkillers.  That's not in dispute.  But the decision to reschedule hydrocodone and other opioids, restricting their supply, looked like an easy fix but made the situation worse.  Why?  Because tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Americans were already addicted in one way or another to those drugs and the government took the addiction they came by legally and just cut them off cold turkey.

And it's a funny thing...if someone is genuinely, sincerely addicted to those drugs...and I want to be clear, this is an addiction that may have been brought about by bad doctoring or bad luck with their genes...simply telling them to stop using isn't going to work.  They're going to go in search of a replacement, and if the drive is bad enough they might just be willing to break the law in search of it.  So hydrocodone is replaced by heroin or fentanyl and the risk of that person getting into a really bad spot, or indeed dying, skyrockets.  And it happens not because these people have failed in some way but because the system has failed them in a horrifying way.

Problematic for everyone else is the fact that all those people who previously had an addiction served by their doctors who were suddenly turned out?  They created one hell of a market for drug dealers.  A large, relatively stable market.  And guess what?  Those dealers met the supply and now things are well out of control.

This week, I introduced legislation to deal with the crisis.  I didn't put in a bill to punish people for an addiction that we let their doctors give them.  I chose to admit that maybe, just maybe, the government goofed and permit those people who honestly cannot break their addictions to come back within the medical system where we can monitor and try to help them.

I make no bones that this is a panacea, but if we can pull those people away from street dealers and get them working with proper doctors again the chance rises that they can either get the help they need to break that addiction, or that their situation can be managed so they can at least be productive members of society.  And if we can get them back in the system, with some luck we can turn around, hurt those dealers' profits, and maybe run them out of business.

And yes, there are some people who may be stuck in this situation for a long time.  Some may be there for the rest of their lives.  They're not there because they did anything wrong.  Many are there because they did exactly what their doctors told them to and they were betrayed by the system they trusted in, while others?  They're in deep physical pain, possibly from a work accident or a war injury...there's a reason this problem has been prevalent among injured veterans...and sometimes, all you can do is help them get through the day because we're not living in Star Trek yet and while people can often bounce back those injuries also don't always heal back right.

We do need to do more, but giving those people the government betrayed a second chance at working with their doctors is a step we must take if we're going to beat this crisis.

Andrew Byrd (and family), Virginia

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