Rep. Patrick McHenry during a recent visit to the Stanley Fire Department. 

Patrick McHenry, the chief deputy whip in the U.S. House of Representatives, addressed his colleagues on Capitol Hill this week with a plea to end the opioid crisis.

McHenry, a Denver Republican whose district stretches from Gastonia to Hickory and as far west as Asheville, has been working in recent years to address America’s latest drug epidemic that continues to claim lives at an alarming rate. Rural southern communities have bore the brunt of the crisis and that includes McHenry’s district in western North Carolina, where Hickory specifically has ranked among the worst cities nationwide in terms of opioid abuse. 

“My state has seen a terrifying rise in the number of opioid-related deaths,” McHenry told his fellow congresspeople. “While I could list facts all day, it’s only through talking to those who have lost loved ones to opioid addiction or those who have gone through the addiction themselves and come out on the other side that we can truly understand the devastating effects of this crisis … Their stories are a powerful reminder that we must do more to address this epidemic and that the human toll of this crisis is very real indeed.”

The epidemic has swept the nation, with opioids accounting for approximately two-thirds of all overdose deaths in America in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services administration reported that roughly 11.5 million Americans age 12 and older misused prescription pain medicine in 2016, while another nearly 1 million Americans abused heroin in that same year.

McHenry and his colleagues in the House have been working on legislation aimed at addressing the crisis and passed a bill last week that they hope will do just that. The bill, known as the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act, addresses treatment and prevention in addition to its focus on protecting communities through stricter law enforcement. 

The legislation also includes a plan to combat fentanyl, a synthetic opioid developed as a powerful anesthetic for surgery that is also used to alleviate severe pain associated with terminal illnesses like cancer. Fentanyl is up to 100 times more powerful than morphine and just a small dose can be deadly when illicitly produced. 

“Over the past two years, there have been dozens of bills passed in the House to help opioid addicts and provide support for their family members,” McHenry said. “These bills address this issue from all sides. Some of these bills help with the prevention of addiction, while others ensure that everyone has access to treatment to help facilitate their recovery and still others that provide important support for communities affected so that they can have the tools and resources that they need to combat this epidemic. Last Friday, these bills were passed through the House of Representatives together as part of the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act. This is an important, holistic step that this chamber has taken on a bipartisan basis.”

The SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act must now receive approval from the Senate before being presented to President Donald Trump, who then has the power to sign the bill into law. 

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