Photo credit: Take Back Bridgewater, Iowa

As I travel across Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District, families share with me heartbreaking stories of loved ones they’ve lost to the opioid epidemic. Unfortunately, stories about families and communities being torn apart by addiction and despair are ones we’re hearing more and more about.

Last year, the opioid crisis was responsible for the deaths of 146 Iowans. Nationwide, nearly 30,000 people died as a result of a prescription opioid or heroin overdose, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Nearly 90 people die from opioids every day and nearly 1,000 people are treated for opioid overdoses or related incidents every day.

I know someone affected by the tragic addiction of opioids. Perhaps you do, too. Unfortunately, it’s not so uncommon anymore. They’re in our communities and they are suffering and we must do more to combat this epidemic.

On October 11, I testified before the U.S. House Committee on Energy & Commerce regarding the opioid crisis facing our country. Our communities are hurting and in a small town in Adair County, Bridgewater residents are hurting, too.

They had seen drugs creep into their town and increased crime rates soon followed. Drug dealers and users occupied vacant homes, turning them into drug homes which would catch on fire and burn to the ground. Residents were fed up and decided to take their town back.

They met in a church basement and formed a nonprofit, “Take Back Bridgewater, Iowa,” to combat drug use in their town. They held forums with law enforcement, state and local legislators, drug counselors, and anyone wanting to help. Slowly, they have started to take their town back by fighting back and raising awareness around an issue affecting many communities throughout the Third District.

Residents of Bridgewater showed communities can have a significant effect on the opioid and drug crisis affecting the entire country. When local citizens get involved, a network of supporters is created for those who want to get over their addiction.

Addiction is a hard to stop. It can’t be done alone or with an overnight stay in a hospital. It takes a large support network to help hold folks accountable and to be there when the going gets tough.

I know Iowans can come together to support one another. I have seen it in Bridgewater and in communities throughout the Third District. As we address this issue, Congress can be helpful, but we need a community-based approach.

Last year, Congress passed the 21st Century Cures Act which included $1 billion to fight addiction in our communities and the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act which was the first major bill to address addiction in 40 years. I supported these bipartisan bills. This year, Congress is considering multiple proposals addressing the crisis.

We must focus on preventing addiction whenever possible. This can be done by evaluating opioid prescription practices to ensure patients are not being overprescribed these drugs. We must explore other methods to deal with chronic pain. As Americans become addicted to prescription opioids, they often switch to heroin because it is cheaper and easier to access. We must go all out to defeat the illegal drug and heroin trade. When someone does become addicted, we have to invest in treating addiction for those who need it.

As Congress continues to seek ways to combat the opioid epidemic, and as our state moves forward with new laws to combat the opioid epidemic, I’ll continue fighting to bring Iowa’s voice to the legislative solutions we’re crafting. Iowa families and communities are standing up to fight against an epidemic devastating too many lives, and I stand with them in this fight to help and protect our loved ones, neighbors, and communities.

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