Families demand congressional action on opioid addiction issue columns thesunchronicle.com

When my son, Emmett Scannell, was just 20 years old, he passed away from a drug overdose. Despite suffering from a serious illness, he was unable to obtain the treatment he so desperately sought. We were told by our insurance company that because he “had not failed at detox yet” they could not cover his treatment.

Additionally, after Emmett’s death, we found out that he had been treated for non-fatal overdoses multiple times in a local emergency room and revived with Narcan, yet due to the hospital’s misinterpretation of HIPAA laws, his family and/or primary care provider were not notified and given the opportunity to intervene. How different our world would be today if we could have been there for him during those critical moments and had the access to the treatment he so desperately needed.

Emmett was far from alone in his fight. Addiction is a disease that more than 21 million Americans currently suffer from. 174 die every day from a drug overdose, which is the leading cause of injury-related deaths in the U.S. — accounting for more than those caused by motor vehicles and firearms. That’s like if two 747 planes crashed every week for an entire year. This leaves hundreds of thousands of family members to grieve and search for ways they can help end the epidemic.

On Wednesday, April 25, I was honored to join more than 300 family members who have been impacted by addiction for APF’s Family Day in Washington, D.C. Through meetings with legislators, we will honor our loved ones by advocating that addiction be treated like any other disease.

Congress just appropriated $7.4 billion to address the drug crisis — the largest investment in U.S. history. This critical funding will help us in our fight, yet there is still so much to be done. While in the nation’s capital, we will be advocating for three critical pieces of legislation.

First, we will urge our legislators to cosponsor the Opioid Crisis Response Act (OCRA) of 2018. This legislation would enhance research and discovery efforts, support first responders, improve the efficiency of state grants, encourage the use of recovery supports, develop integrated care models to address treatment gaps, and expand the use of telemedicine.

Second, we will ask our elected officials to cosponsor legislation that would support the treatment and care of overdose patients in emergency rooms. The Preventing Overdoses While in Emergency Rooms (POWER) Act of 2018, which is in both chambers, would provide emergency departments with the resources and tools needed to develop evidence-based protocols for screening overdose patients, initiate treatment with FDA-approved medications in the hospital, and provide rapid referrals to evidence-based treatment before a patient is discharged. It would also help hospitals develop and implement best practices for care coordination and integrated care models for long-term treatment and recovery services.

Third, we will ask our elected officials to cosponsor the Comprehensive Opioid Recovery Centers (CORC) Act of 2018. This legislation would provide resources to operate comprehensive treatment and recovery centers, which will provide the full spectrum of evidence-based treatment services including intake evaluations and regular assessments, all FDA-approved treatments for SUDs, detoxification, counseling, residential rehabilitation, recovery support services, pharmacy and toxicology services, and interoperable electronic health information systems.

We are advocating for action in Congress because we know we can reduce the number of Americans who suffer from addiction by addressing it like we would any other disease. The OCRA, POWER and CORC acts — as well as many others — can help our country turn the tables on addiction.

I along with millions of other families who have lost loved ones to this disease, know all too well the lack of treatment and recovery supports for this disease. We go to Washington to ask for their support in saving millions of American lives.