By Baker Owens –
It’s been in the news a lot lately. In Atlanta, there is enough of a problem in the suburbs to garner the nickname The Triangle, or the Heroin Triangle, running from Atlanta out to Johns Creek and over to Kennesaw. Barack Obama came to Atlanta just recently as the city hosted a national conference on combating addiction. Many blame the over-prescription of painkillers as a major factor in the rise of the heroin epidemic in the U.S. Whatever the cause, pharmaceutical or societal, the numbers are staggering.
A report from the Centers for Disease Control showed that from 2002-2013, the rate of heroin-related overdose deaths almost quadrupled. A growing number of heroin users are white and come from middle-class or wealthy homes. The CDC study showed that 45% of heroin users from 2011-2013 were also addicted to prescription painkillers. Those addicted to prescription opioids are 40 times more likely to abuse or become addicted to heroin. Overdoses are now the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S., exceeding car accidents.
On Wednesday, the next steps towards a legislative effort were taken by the House of Representatives. Speaker Paul Ryan appointed 21 Republicans to the conference committee with the Senate to address opioid abuse, treatment and its prevention. Nancy Pelosi appointed 14 Democrats. Not a small committee. That means Washington is clearly paying attention but it also means there a lot of cooks in the kitchen. It is unclear how many Senators may be on the committee but 35 House members means there better be a big conference room.
However, there may be one name that sticks out among the House conferees who has some special insight on the issue. On Monday, InsiderAdvantage gave some background on the careers of the Georgia delegation. Among them, the lone pharmacist in Congress, Earl “Buddy” Carter (R- GA1), who was appointed to the committee by Speaker Ryan.
“As the only pharmacist in Congress, Buddy’s insight will be invaluable to this Conference Committee,” Speaker Ryan said. “He has been on the front lines for more than thirty years working to combat prescription drug abuse and he has wasted no time taking up that fight in Congress. I look forward to working with Congressman Carter to find an agreement that will end this epidemic once and for all.”
“I am excited and honored to participate in the Conference Committee,” Carter said. “As a pharmacist for more than thirty years, I was blessed to watch prescription medication save lives. At the same time, I have watched firsthand as addiction to them ruined careers, families, and lives. I viewed battling prescription drug abuse as a very important part of my professional duty as a pharmacist and I have carried that mission with me to the United States House of Representatives. I am ready to work with my colleagues to find an effective agreement to address this issue. Together, we can and will overcome this crisis.”
Carter has been outspoken about the dangers of overprescription and its connection to heroin addiction. Carter has encouraged more aggressive action against bad actors by state governments and medical boards. The conference committee may have some power to ensure that.