For the last three years, I have worked on legislation to transform the federal government’s response to the heroin and opioid addiction epidemic that is devastating too many Ohio communities. The legislation is called CARA, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act.
After a big bipartisan vote in the Senate and the House, CARA was signed into law in July. It represents a change in the way we prevent, treat, and help people recover from addiction. It ramps up prevention and education efforts in the face of this epidemic, treats addiction like a disease — requiring treatment — and is the first federal law to emphasize the need for longer term recovery, which substantially increases the chances of success. It provides law enforcement and other first responders with the resources and training they need on the front lines. CARA directs hundreds of millions of dollars in new resources toward those efforts every year, helping every community across Ohio. As it is implemented, it will help save lives.
In the past month alone, I have visited a dozen cities in Ohio to see the impact of the opioid addiction epidemic. I have heard consistently from prosecutors, police chiefs and county sheriffs that the epidemic is responsible for most of the crime in our neighborhoods. Firefighters have told me they make more runs to administer the miracle drug, Narcan, to reverse the effects of an overdose than they do fire runs. And, sadly, drug overdoses have now surpassed car accidents as the number one cause of death in Ohio.
During these visits, I have met with hundreds of people whose addictions have taken their lives off track, torn their families apart, separated them from work and generally prevented them from reaching their potential in life. The stories are heartbreaking.
But I have also seen a lot of good reasons for hope.
Many of those who are struggling have made the decision to throw off the grip of addiction by seeking treatment and getting into longer term recovery. And so many compassionate people in our communities are reaching out to help — in new and innovative ways.
In Dayton, I visited Ohio’s first Federal Veterans court, and one of the first in the country, and met with graduates who were helped not only with their addiction but also with jobs skills and employment and a fresh start on life. I heard from Chris, a proud graduate of the program who served time in prison and is in recovery. Thanks to the program, he’s been sober for several years and has his own successful business that employs others who have served time.
In Lakewood, I toured the impressive Woodrow Project Home for Women, where women who are in long-term recovery from addiction can live in a supportive and safe environment. I met a young woman named Avril, who suffers from an addiction to prescription painkillers and other drugs. With help from the staff and with the support from her peers, she has been sober for a year, is starting college, and hopes to someday work in human resources so that she can help people get the right jobs for them and live out their potential to the fullest.
At the Veterans Treatment Center at Youngstown State University, I met Bill, an Army veteran who used to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol and who eventually became addicted. When he was facing jail time, a veterans treatment court offered him a second chance. Bill just graduated from the program in June, and now he is giving back and helping others get a second chance, too.
In Lancaster, I toured the Pearl House and Recovery Center. I met Dustin, who struggles with an addiction to oxycodone and heroin. He lost his sister to an opiate overdose, and now she is his inspiration to do whatever it takes to beat his own addiction. He’s fighting hard and, thanks to the Pearl House, he’s winning.
In Logan, I visited the Hocking County Municipal Vivitrol Drug Court, where Judge Fred Moses uses compassion and accountability to turn people’s lives around who are in the criminal justice system because of heroin or prescription drug addiction. Judge Moses got reports from those in the program and his treatment team on their progress or failure. We heard testimony from people at various stages on the road to recovery and I had a chance to ask those in the program about what worked and what didn’t. Some were struggling not following the rules, and they faced consequences. One man was sent back to prison, others to community service. Most were succeeding and received applause and encouragement from the dozens of people in the courtroom.
And in Chillicothe, I visited the Adena Women’s Pregnancy Center and met with pregnant women and new moms who suffer from addiction — women like Elizabeth, who developed an addiction after she was prescribed morphine following surgery to remove her appendix. I also met Connie, who became addicted to prescription painkillers after breaking her arm. Both women are now sober and successful thanks to the doctors, counselors, and volunteers at Adena.
In Columbus, I visited the Hope Over Heroin event led by pastors from Ohio and Kentucky. Even with another day to go, they had already helped a number of people get into treatment.
These visits showed me once again that there is hope for those who struggle with addiction. While the toll of this opioid addiction epidemic has been getting worse, not better, these success stories show how the right kind of treatment and recovery can work.
I am encouraged by the positive examples I see in Ohio, and pleased that our new legislation, CARA, will support these successful programs and help write more of these Ohio success stories.
Rob Portman is a United States senator from Ohio.