I heard a shocking statistic in the news the other day: More Americans died of opioid-related causes in 2016 than the total of American lives lost in the entire Vietnam War. Think about that: more people dying from opioids in one year than died in a 20-year war.
The opioid epidemic is blind to race, gender, socioeconomic background and geographic location. However, one thing is clear: We must work together to fight this with everything we’ve got.
Public opinion surrounding America’s opioid crisis is shaped greatly by personal experience. As a former law enforcement officer, I saw firsthand the terrible impact this crisis has on our families, our youth and our community. Throughout my tenure, I delivered countless death notices, some to unsuspecting parents who never even knew their child was struggling with addiction.
I’ll never forget the mothers collapsing in my arms when I told them that their child had died from an overdose. It was one of the hardest things I had to do as a police officer.
I realize there is no simple solution to this crisis. However, I also know that many of my friends, family and neighbors know someone who has had to deal with the effects of this epidemic. In fact, according to the Minnesota Department of Health, 109 people died last year in the Eighth Congressional District alone.
We cannot blame any single person, agency or corporation for this, and we certainly cannot arrest our way out of this problem. We need to ensure that our communities have the resources necessary to help those addicted to opioids become functioning members of our society. Regardless of the addiction they face, every individual can contribute to the communities around them. We cannot wait for our law enforcement to find individuals addicted to opioids to start treating their problems. We need to be proactive.
I applaud the president for taking action and declaring this a national health crisis, and I also applaud members of Congress for making this a priority by introducing real legislation to address this problem. In the recent omnibus budget, $4 billion was included to combat the crisis. As we speak, other pieces of legislation are being introduced that take a hard look at how physicians are prescribing these medications and at what doses.
However, more needs to be done. A mother doesn’t care if the police officer delivering a death notice is Republican or Democrat. Deaths aren’t partisan, and legislation to solve this problem shouldn’t be, either.
We are making progress, but I will not stop until this crisis is eradicated. As your congressman, I assure you I will work across the aisle and do everything in my power to get us there. Nothing is more important than keeping our young people alive.
Pete Stauber is a St. Louis County commissioner and Republican candidate for Congress in Minnesota’s Eighth District.