Ryan: Congress cracks down on opi­oid epi­demic

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - Ideas Lab - Paul Ryan Paul Ryan, a Repub­li­can from Wis­con­sin, is speaker of the House.

There’s a man from south­ern Wis­con­sin who has a story of hope and in­spi­ra­tion. But that wasn’t al­ways the case. For Kyle Pucek, an an­kle in­jury at 23 turned into an ad­dic­tion to heroin that nearly took his life.

Kyle was pre­scribed opi­oids for the pain. He got hooked. And like so many Amer­i­cans found him­self in a dan­ger­ous spi­ral for sur­vival.

Kyle has been clean for more than four years now, but he lost a lot be­fore get­ting there. He was sent to the hospi­tal af­ter sui­cide at­tempts and a near over­dose. He can name for you at least 10 friends whose lives have been claimed by drugs.

Now, work­ing with non­prof­its in his na­tive Janesville, he shares his story to en­cour­age those strug­gling to en­ter recovery and get the help they need. One or­ga­ni­za­tion he works with is called Hope Over Heroin, a faith-based or­ga­ni­za­tion that uses a three-tiered ap­proach to fight opi­oid ad­dic­tion and sup­port fam­i­lies im­pacted by the cri­sis.

Sto­ries like Kyle’s are inspiring Congress to take ac­tion, cre­ate more hope and save lives. For one, we are es­tab­lish­ing more recovery cen­ters like the one in Janesville as part of a se­ries of re­forms we’re con­sid­er­ing on the House floor this week.

Al­to­gether, this will be the most sig­nif­i­cant con­gres­sional ef­fort against a sin­gle drug cri­sis in his­tory.

Here are just a few num­bers to think about. In 2016 alone, 865 peo­ple in our state died opi­oid-re­lated deaths, whether from heroin, syn­thetic opi­oids or pre­scrip­tion pills. Na­tion­wide, the cri­sis claims more than 115 lives each day. The rate of Wis­con­sin ba­bies born with neona­tal ab­sti­nence syn­drome — mean­ing they were ex­posed to drugs in the womb — has more than quadru­pled be­tween 2006 and 2015.

In this hor­ri­fy­ing way, opi­oids are reach­ing the most vul­ner­a­ble among us be­fore they even take their first breaths.

This epi­demic does not care about po­lit­i­cal party, so­cial sta­tus, age, race or home­town. It does not care about where you’ve been — or where you’re go­ing — it sim­ply rips the liveli­hood from who­ever is caught in its path. That’s why just about ev­ery one of us knows some­one af­fected by this cri­sis.

The time is now: We need to step up and fight the opi­oid epi­demic from all sides.

In the last two years, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment has passed two ma­jor pieces of leg­is­la­tion to com­bat this cri­sis. In 2016, Congress passed the Com­pre­hen­sive Ad­dic­tion and Recovery Act. Ear­lier this year, we al­lo­cated nearly $4 bil­lion to­ward opi­oid abuse preven­tion and treat­ment as part of a broader gov­ern­ment fund­ing pack­age.

To build on that, we have put to­gether mean­ing­ful bi­par­ti­san leg­is­la­tion to make a dif­fer­ence for those who are at risk or strug­gling with ad­dic­tion or recovery. This means cre­at­ing more ac­cess to recovery cen­ters so peo­ple have a place to turn to for help. In ad­di­tion, the mea­sures the House will con­sider over the next two weeks will stem the flow of opi­oids by chang­ing how pills are pre­scribed and en­cour­age non-opi­oid treat­ments. We will pass leg­is­la­tion to tar­get the deadly syn­thetic opi­oid, fen­tanyl and other syn­thetic opi­oids like it. And we will give law en­force­ment more ac­cess to the re­sources they need to get these drugs off the street.

Of course, bills passed in Washington alone will not stop this epi­demic. We all have a role to play in sup­port­ing those af­fected, in­clud­ing putting an end to the stigma sur­round­ing ad­dic­tion. We need to be clear that ad­dic­tion does not de­fine a per­son, and there is no shame in wrestling with it or ask­ing for help. All of us can do our part to of­fer com­pas­sion and sup­port.

Ear­lier this year, Kyle at­tended the State of the Union as my guest, sit­ting in the front row of the gallery across the hall from the first lady. Kyle is proof that no mat­ter how far we fall, all of us can pick our­selves up with a lit­tle help, and hope, too. He is a re­minder of why we do this: When gov­ern­ment and com­mu­ni­ties work to­gether to tackle these prob­lems, we can most suc­cess­fully lift up those in need.



Kyle Pucek, a former heroin ad­dict from Janesville, says his

home­town some­times is in dis­be­lief over the

sever­ity of its heroin and opi­oid epi­demic. A fac­tory

town on the Rock River, Janesville was an­chored for nearly

a cen­tury by Gen­eral Mo­tors, which closed in 2008.

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