Many lawmakers across the country are motivated by the way their loved ones have been touched by the epidemic. “We’re all here because we have this empty void in our lives,” said Minnesota state Rep. Dave Baker, whose son started out taking prescription drugs for back pain and died of a heroin overdose in 2011. Media outlets report on the crisis out of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Georgia.
In statehouses across the country, lawmakers with loved ones who fell victim to drugs are leading the fight against the nation’s deadly opioid-abuse crisis, drawing on tragic personal experience to attack the problem. A Minnesota state senator whose daughter died of a heroin overdose in a Burger King parking lot — a friend hid the needles instead of calling for help — spearheaded a law that grants immunity to 911 callers. In Wisconsin, a state representative has introduced more than a dozen opioid-related bills in the years since his daughter went from painkillers to heroin to prison. A Pennsylvania lawmaker whose son is a recovering heroin addict championed a state law that expanded availability of an antidote that can reverse an overdose.
City and state leaders marked a milestone in combating the opioid, heroin and fentanyl crisis with the ground-breaking Tuesday of an expanded treatment center and new recovery housing. The Families in Transition’s Family Willows Substance Use Treatment Center and Recovery Housing, located in the old Hoitt’s Furniture building on Wilson Street, is focused on one at-risk population: women, and mothers with children. It will provide treatment for an estimated 400 women annually, said Dick Anagnost, a businessman who is chairman of the Families in Transition board of directors.
As Gloucester police chief, Leonard Campanello pledged in 2015 that drug users could walk into the police station, hand over heroin, and walk out into treatment within hours — without arrest or charges. The concept of help rather than handcuffs became a national sensation. But when Campanello left office in October, under fire for allegedly lying to city investigators probing complaints by two women against him, questions arose about the future of a program propelled in part by Campanello’s outsize personality.
Rep. Dave Baker’s son Dan died of an opioid overdose six years ago. Sen. Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center, lost her daughter Ariel a decade ago. These two lawmakers and other allies at the Capitol are spearheading a new legislative effort to combat the opioid overdose epidemic.
House Bill 161 is sponsored by state Rep. Betty Price, a physician. She is the wife of U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who is also a physician and was until recently a U.S. congressman from Georgia. She backed a similar proposal last year. It was approved by the House but failed to get consideration in the state Senate.
The heads of two congressional committees said Tuesday they want the Department of Veterans Affairs to better explain its efforts to stem drug theft and loss in light of rising cases of missing prescriptions and other unauthorized use at VA hospitals. Rep. Phil Roe, who chairs the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said his panel had scheduled a hearing for Monday. The Associated Press reported last Monday on government data showing a sharp increase since 2009 in opioid theft and drugs that had simply disappeared at the VA.