Senator Amy Klobuchar and Michael Botticelli
Casey Jo Schulte was a swimmer, a dancer. She dreamed of being a nurse. But that dream was cut short. After a bout of digestive pain, her doctor prescribed opioid pain medication, and last August, her life was stolen by an overdose.
We heard Casey Jo’s story last month at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation treatment center. With tears in her eyes, Casey Jo’s mom, Shelly Elkington of Montevideo, told us about how much she loved her daughter, how much she missed her. During that same discussion, we heard from other Minnesota families who have lost sons and daughters to prescription opioid and heroin use disorders, along with leaders from across the state’s medical, law enforcement and treatment communities, to discuss concrete solutions to end this epidemic.
And it is an epidemic.
Roughly four out of every five heroin users get their start misusing prescription drugs. Nearly half the people in our country know someone with a prescription opioid use disorder. On average, we lose almost 80 American lives every day to prescription opioid and heroin overdoses.
As Shelly reminded us at Hazelden, “This epidemic is man-made. We need to own it. And we need to fix it.”
Shelly is right. We must respond to this crisis. Bipartisan legislation has passed the U.S. House and Senate, and the president has called for an additional $1.1 billion to make sure that every American with an opioid-use disorder who wants treatment can get the help he or she needs.
This builds on work being done to expand the use of tools that are effective in reducing drug use and overdose. These include evidence-based prevention programs, prescriber education, prescription drug monitoring, safe drug disposal, medication-assisted treatment and the overdose reversal drug naloxone.
Just a decade ago, only 20 states had prescription-drug monitoring programs in place. Today, nearly every state does, including Minnesota. But simply having a PDMP isn’t enough — it has to be used by all prescribers. Unfortunately that still isn’t the case.
During our discussion, we heard the story of a patient who filled 108 prescriptions for painkillers from more than 85 different prescribers throughout Minnesota. To stop this kind of doctor shopping, many states are requiring all prescribers to use their PDMPs.
Every day we lose more Americans to this devastating disease. And every day that passes without more funding to support the treatment needs of those suffering from opioid use disorders is a missed opportunity to save lives.
Millions of Americans are in recovery from opioid and other substance use disorders because they got the treatment and care they needed. We need a comprehensive approach to confront this crisis. That means making sure health care providers have the right training and tools to save lives, and that means providing the resources needed to ensure that every American who wants treatment can get it.
Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, represents Minnesota in the U.S. Senate. Michael Botticelli is director of national drug control policy.