Addiction is a heartbreaking disease sweeping across our island, state and nation at a rapid rate and leaving behind a terrible wake of devastation and suffering — taking lives, tearing families apart, and destroying communities.
As addiction and overdose deaths continue to climb, specifically as a result of the recent rise in heroin and prescription opioid abuse, it’s essential that we take a 21st century approach to combat this growing epidemic that is plaguing our country and taking hold of our loved ones. Through a three-pronged approach, focusing on treatment, enforcement, and education, we can overcome this crisis.
Increasing funding and accessibility for treatment and recovery services is critically important to assist Americans coping with addiction. Incarceration alone is not the answer. Targeted and individualized treatment programs are essential to solve the addiction epidemic. We must also increase access to affordable treatment and recovery options through healthcare reform to treat addiction as a disease. Unless we systematically restructure our existing healthcare options, individuals will not be able to shoulder the significant financial costs that result from treatment.
Second, we must focus on targeted enforcement to stop the flow of illegal narcotics into our country in order to keep drugs out of our communities and off our streets. Since previous efforts to solely incarcerate low level drug pushers have proven inadequate, we must change our approach to focus the efforts of law enforcement on those individuals in charge of trafficking drugs into the United States illegally. Allowing law enforcement entities to target drug kingpins and international narco-traffickers will destabilize global drug rings, making it easier to eliminate the local impacts of these dangerous drugs, while local law enforcement entities simultaneously target local drug pushers.
Finally, we must provide funding for education and awareness in our schools and local communities to prevent experimentation and addiction. Without properly educating America’s youth on the realities of drug addiction, we will never be able to stem the tide and overcome this reoccurring nightmare. Education breeds confidence. Bringing the dangers of drug addiction out of the shadows and educating all Americans about the dangers of drug addiction is the only proven solution to a crisis of this magnitude. As we have seen with similar health risks, such as smoking and alcoholism, educating the public on the inherent dangers associated with addiction is essential to truly solve this challenge.
There is so much that can and must be done on many different levels to combat the drug epidemic, and over the coming weeks, Congress is expected to take up bipartisan legislation to help fight against this growing crisis through treatment, enforcement and education.
In addition to these legislative efforts on the federal level, I also believe this must be a community effort as well. I have hosted multiple drug task force roundtables locally, to bring together local elected officials, law enforcement, health professionals, community groups, parents, concerned residents and recovering substance abusers, to discuss and develop a more localized solution to address this crisis. I look forward to continuing these efforts to combat heroin and opiate abuse.
Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-C, Shirley) was elected to represent the First Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives in November 2014. He is a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure, Foreign Affairs and Veterans’ Affairs committees. He is the vice chairman of the subcommittee on Aviation and a member of the subcommittees on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, Railroad, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs, Economic Opportunity, the Middle East and North Africa, and Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade.