Sen. John Thune
The opioid crisis that’s plagued many areas of the country has reached epidemic levels, and it’s on the rise. Last year alone, more than 72,000 Americans lost their lives to drug overdoses. Of those, nearly 50,000 were related to opioids – a highly addictive drug that can be fatal when misused, whether in the form of a prescription drug or illicit substance.
No state is immune to this battle, including South Dakota. And while it might not have affected our state the same way it has others, I can say with certainty that one opioid-related death is one too many.
Sadly, we’ve lost hundreds of fellow South Dakotans to this epidemic over the last decade, and nationwide, the problem is only getting worse. Today more people are dying from opioid overdoses than in motor vehicle accidents. It’s now the leading cause of accidental death in the United States.
Taking on this crisis requires a strong and coordinated response from local communities all the way to the federal government, which has an important role to play in this battle. In a place where politics too often rules the day, I’m glad this fight has garnered the strong bipartisan support it deserves in Washington, D.C. It’s too important not to.
In 2016, Congress passed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act and the 21st Century Cures Act, which devoted substantial resources to states to empower them to tackle this problem in communities around the country. In March and September of this year, we passed appropriations bills that included more than $8 billion to address the opioid crisis. All told, funding to combat this crisis has increased by nearly 1,300 percent over last four years.
Most recently, Congress passed the Opioid Crisis Response Act, which is the result of more than 70 proposals from senators across the ideological spectrum, myself included. Five Senate committees, including the Senate Commerce Committee, which I chair, contributed to this effort that will help reduce use and supply, encourage recovery, and drive innovation and long-term solutions.
The bill includes my Expanding Telehealth Response to Ensure Addiction Treatment Act, which will take meaningful steps toward expanding access to telehealth technology for Medicare patients being treated for substance use disorder. Telehealth is critical for rural states like South Dakota, which is why I’m glad this particular provision was included in the broader legislation.
It also includes my Fighting Opioid Abuse in Transportation Act, which would close a safety gap in railroad drug and alcohol testing regulations and require certain federal agencies to include fentanyl, an opioid drug, in the drug-testing panel.
Angela Kennecke, a journalist who is familiar to many South Dakotans, lost her daughter to the opioid crisis. Angela has bravely shared her family’s experience, saying, in part, “I think it’s best if I just tell my story and let everyone out there know what happened to my daughter. Because I really believe it could happen to anyone’s daughter. It can happen in anyone’s family.”
She’s right. It can happen to anyone’s family. That’s why Congress has taken this issue head on. When I say one opioid-related death is one too many, it’s people like Angela’s daughter, Emily, who I’m talking about. We can curb this epidemic, and with the tools that are being deployed nationwide, I’m confident we will.