Senator Donnelly here; discusses the role of Congress in fighting drug epidemic

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Indiana Senator Joe Donnelly was in Vevay last Wednesday as part of his tour along the Ohio River, meeting with residents and talking about efforts in Congress to curb the rising opiod epidemic.

Senator Donnelly stopped at The Lantern Coffeehouse, and spoke of his part in the effort to find solutions to this problem, which now reaches every community in the country.

“It’s been so destructive,” the senator said. “It’s damaged so many lives. It damages the lives of the people we lose, and also the families. I was at an event in Indianapolis earlier this week, for overdose lifeline awareness; and it was family members of families who had lost a son or daughter; a husband or a wife. It’s almost the definition of heartbreaking. Here’s someone 21 or 22 years old, who had their whole life ahead of them. Had incredible talent, and now they’re gone.”

The senator was especially moved by one story.

“There was a dad. The person who spoke at the event was his son, who was now 14. He was seven when his dad overdosed, so for the past seven years his dad has been gone,” Donnelly recounted. “He said everyday I think about my dad, and why he’s not there – and wish he was. This is incredibly destructive to our state; and that’s why I’ve worked so non-stop on this in a bipartisan way.”

Donnelly said that he worked with fellow senators on both sides of the aisle in drafting Congress’s “Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act”, which will change prescribing practices for doctors and for pharmacists.

“When someone uses Naloxone, that we then sit with them and try to get counseling for them, so we don’t wind up in the situation where that same person is back again in a week, or back again in two weeks. That we use that as a moment to intervene and to change the future,” Donnelly said. “We also want to help psychiatrists, psychologists and counselors who make a commitment to communities like Switzerland County or Ohio County or Dearborn County; that if they’re going to make a commitment for two years to help with addiction treatment services, that we’ll then help pay off their student loans up to $50,000.”

The senator said that Congress is trying to get the agriculture department involved in the efforts to fight this epidemic by having them use their facilities for tele-medicine, allowing, for example: someone in Vevay can, through tele-medicine, be able to speak to an addiction specialist or a doctor in Indianapolis or Chicago or Cincinnati or Louisville – anywhere that you can imagine – and try and get the care they need right there by tele-medicine.

The senator said that the nation and Congress is becoming even more aware that much of the addiction issue is not confined to “addicts”, but to everyday people who begin to take these medications under the care of a physician after an injury or surgery.

“This can happen to anyone, and we are seeing that,” Donnelly said. “It has touched so many families. My friend Justine Phillips, her son, Aaron, his experience with pain killers came about because he was a football player; and he injured his shoulder during a game, and they game him opiod prescription pain killers to deal with the pain. He was not an addict. He was not someone who had ever used drugs in his life, and because of his football injury, that’s how he was introduced; and once he received some of them for the pain, he couldn’t get off of them. He tried and he tried, and he couldn’t get away from it, and he overdosed and died. This is something that has hit an incredible diversity of families. The way they’ve been introduced to this has come in so many different ways, our job is to try and help save our families.”

Is there a feeling in Washington as to how we begin to help those families?

“Yes,” said the Senator. “One of the things that the state has done really well this year, I thought, was they passed legislation to restrict first time prescriptions to seven days, so you don’t have somebody winding up with a shoulder injury and 75 Vicodin, and 70 left over after the pain is gone. I think that was an important step that the state took to continue to work with our police departments to continue to prosecute and find the pushers on these things.”

Senator Donnelly said that Indiana now has three counties that are designated as ‘High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas’, that provide grants for these counties to go after the pushers who often times are involved in the distribution of illegal drugs not only in those counties, but it funnels down to places like here. The grants will hopefully work to try and cut off the supply and the flow of drugs throughout the state.

Donnelly also said Congress has to come at the problem from every angle; noting that pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly and others are currently working on a non-addictive pain killer, which would in effect break the chain.

“What’s most important is that we need to continue to try and find every avenue possible to fight and defeat this epidemic,” the senator said. “Our families are too important to let this continue to grow.”