WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Representatives Frank Guinta and Annie Kuster, New Hampshire’s two U.S. House members, held the first Congressional briefing of their new Bipartisan Task Force to Combat the Heroin Epidemic, which they created in October.
“It seems everyone in New Hampshire has a personal story to tell about the devastating effect of heroin on our communities.”said Rep. Guinta. “Rep. Kuster and I organized today’s event to share some of those stories and the latest news and information from federal agencies. I’m pleased to report real progress, as well as greater public awareness. But we still have a long way to solve a rapidly advancing health crisis.”
At a U.S. Capitol auditorium, they brought together personnel from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) – federal agencies responsible for the country’s response to a growing heroin epidemic, which claims at least one life in the United States every day, according to Dr. Wilson Compton, Director of NIH’s Institute on Drug Abuse.
“Today’s briefing was an important step towards establishing lasting solutions to end this terrible epidemic,”said Rep. Kuster. “I continue to see the impacts of this heartbreaking epidemic as I meet with affected communities and families across my district. And in conversations with colleagues, I know that this is a nation-wide epidemic. Conversations like the ones between our panelists today are vital, and I look forward to continuing this collective effort to make a real difference in the lives of those struggling with addiction and their families.”
Fentanyl, a legal, synthetic opiate frequently manufactured illegally and combined with heroin, was the primary topic of discussion. Agency personnel said that, because coroners rarely test for common fentanyl, which is up to 50 times more powerful that its opiate cousin, the synthetic drug could be responsible for a large share of nationwide heroin-related deaths.
Heroin-related overdoses and deaths have almost doubled over the last ten years across the U.S. In the Midwest and Northeast, including New Hampshire, the numbers are higher. In October, the CDC and DEA issued a joint public heath advisory, noting an increase in pure fentanyl abuse.
New Hampshire and neighboring Massachusetts rank in the DEA’s top-ten states by fentanyl seizures. Ohio ranks first. Due to the Granite State’s small size and proximity to other high-intensity drug-trafficking areas, Rep. Kuster emphasized the federal government must tightly control drugs moving across state lines.
Kemp Chester, Chief of the ONDCP’s Heroin Coordination Group, said federal and state controls have successfully diminished the spread of prescription opiates like OxyContin and Oxycodone. However, with four out of five heroin addicts having initially experimented with such legal prescription drugs, he expects even more to migrate to street heroin as a substitute.
SAMSHA’s Robert Lubran mentioned several new therapies to treat overdose and addiction. This year, Rep. Guinta introduced legislation to increase patients’ access to the potentially life-saving medication Naloxone. He and Rep. Kuster also introduced the STOP ABUSE Act in November to strengthen federal law enforcement, treatment and prevention measures.
Their Bipartisan Heroin Task Force counts over 40 Republican and Democratic members. Nearly 100 House members and staff attended today’s briefing. “In my 18 years as a police officer,” said Congressman Steve Knight of California, “I saw firsthand the damage that heroin and other drugs inflict on families and communities. The heroin epidemic is a serious problem across this nation—from New Hampshire to California—and I want to thank Congressman Guinta and Congresswoman Kuster for their work on this important issue.”