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Another Voice: Now is the time for Congress to act on the opioid epidemic

By Barack Obama

In the final weeks of my administration, we are as focused as ever on a promise I made in my inaugural address: putting American ingenuity to work to help Americans live healthier lives. In honoring this promise I remain committed to addressing the prescription opioid and heroin epidemic, a crisis that is taking a devastating toll on far too many families.

I’ve seen it in the faces of families I’ve met who’ve lost loved ones, and the countless letters I’ve received from Americans who are trying to find treatment. This week, Congress has an important role to play in the fight.

Since 1999, the number of deaths attributed to opioid overdoses has nearly quadrupled. From Ohio and New Hampshire to New Mexico and West Virginia, the disease of addiction is affecting communities big and small, urban and rural; it doesn’t discriminate.  Instead, it strains families as well as the capacity of law enforcement and our health care systems in ways that hurt all of us.

Those on the front lines of this fight have made it clear they need more resources. I heard them, and in February I proposed $1 billion in new investments to address the crisis. Through my proposal, New York could be eligible for up to $44 million over two years to help individuals with opioid addiction seeking treatment get the help they need. It will build upon steps we have already taken to expand overdose prevention strategies, improve opioid prescription practices and ensure more Americans seeking treatment can get the help they so desperately need. Those devastated by the heroin and prescription opioid epidemic cannot wait any longer. They need help now, and we need to help turn the tide of this epidemic.

In the many months since I called on Congress to act, my administration has continued to use every tool at our disposal to make a difference. And we have made sure everyone has a seat at the table where the solutions are being developed, holding roundtables and town halls with law enforcement professionals, health professionals, family members, individuals in recovery and local leaders.

This week, Congress can do its part.

The House of Representatives just voted overwhelmingly – and in a bipartisan fashion – to pass the 21st Century Cures Act, and now it’s the Senate’s turn. In addition to funding the fight against the opioid epidemic, this bill can improve our nation’s long-term health with its support of Joe Biden’s Cancer Moonshot, funding for important research through our BRAIN and Precision Medicine Initiatives, and important mental health reforms.

I hope the Senate will pass it without delay. Seventy-eight Americans die every day from opioid-related overdoses. So every day that passes without Congress’ action is a missed opportunity to save and improve lives, and to spare families pain and heartache. Even in this season of transition, the American people expect us to act in their best interests.

We all know someone who has been affected by these diseases and disorders. The time to act is now.

Barack Obama is the outgoing president of the United States.

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