Addiction Policy Forum Founder and Executive Director Presented the U.S. House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee with Recommendations for Improving Our Country’s Opioid Overdose Response
(March 2, 2022) North Bethesda, Maryland - Earlier today, Addiction Policy Forum Founder and Executive Director Jessica Hulsey spoke before the U.S. House of Representatives’ Ways and Means Committee and urged Congress to take steps to address the country’s opioid epidemic. The hearing, titled Substance Use, Suicide Risk, and the American Health System, also featured testimony from Jonathan Metzl of Vanderbilt University; Edwin C. Chapman, a private practice addiction medicine physician; Regina LaBelle of the O’Neill Institute; and Marielle Reataza of National Asian Pacific American Families Against Substance Abuse.
“The history of substance use disorders in the U.S. is one that is marked by stigma, criminalization, and a lack of recognition that these issues are health conditions requiring evidence-based treatment, in the same way we treat diabetes or hypertension,” said Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA), Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.
Hulsey began her testimony before the committee, led by Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA), by stressing the importance of input from individuals with substance use disorders and their families when searching for ways to end our nation’s opioid crisis.
“In 2021, we conducted 60 Life Course History interviews of individuals in recovery from substance use disorders nationwide to craft a patient journey map… Findings from these interviews can help frame better responses to addiction, including prevention, early intervention, improved treatment outcomes and long-term health and wellness,” said Hulsey.
Hulsey also shared how the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health stressors, and the emergence of fentanyl have collided to increase the rate at which individuals are dying from opioid overdoses.
"Fentanyl is the number one killer of young adults in America," shared Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX). "Think about that, if you have a child that’s between 18 and 45, your biggest fear about losing them doesn’t come from cancer, or car accidents, or crime, it comes from fentanyl.”
Provisional data from the CDC shows that there were over 104,000 fatal overdoses from September 2020 through September 2021 - a staggering 285 people each day. To honor those we have lost, Hulsey shared stories written by the loved ones of five individuals who lost their lives to substance use disorder.
“Jonathan graduated college, wanted to be in construction management, loved sports and had the best smile,” shared Hulsey. “He died at 28 years old due to fentanyl adulterant. His mom, Cristina, writes: ‘People need to know that it is a disease and not a choice. Since he died, I have been transported into a parallel universe, where beautiful young people like my Jonathan die of this horrible disease, where mothers and fathers are grieving their ultimate loss. He hid his addiction because he was ashamed, but we are not hiding it. We are not ashamed of our son. People need to know that it is a disease and not a choice.’”
Hulsey ended her testimony by highlighting several evidence-based strategies for combating opioid overdose, including addressing the 17-year research-to-practice gap, building the addiction workforce, going upstream to prevent substance use disorders through prevention, early intervention, and expansion of programs for children impacted by parental addiction.
“Increasing the uptake of evidence-based solutions to address the opioid epidemic in cities, counties, communities, healthcare systems, schools and criminal justice agencies would drastically improve our response to addiction nationwide, and allow us to better address substance use, suicide risk, and the integration of care into our health systems,” shared Hulsey.
To view a recording of the hearing, visit https://waysandmeans.house.gov/legislation/hearings.
Thank you to the five families who allowed Jess to share their stories as part of her testimony.
This is Tristan. Her family described her as smart and opinionated and caring. Her sister Stephanie writes: “My sister Tristan died of a heroin overdose at age 18. Our mother found Tristan in our guest house. Our mother and little sister were told by the 911 operator to do CPR on Tristan’s lifeless body until paramedics arrived on the scene - something no loved one should ever have to see or do.” Stephanie writes: “Even though Tristan died from a drug overdose, drugs did not define who she was. There was much more to my sister than her addiction. Tristan was such a spirited, opinionated, smart, beautiful, creative and caring young woman. She is deeply missed. We found out after her death she purchased meals for the homeless at her work. Even in the darkness of her addiction, Tristan never lost her compassion.”
Read Tristan's full story here.
Jonathan graduated college, wanted to be in construction management, loved sports and had the best smile. He died at 28 years old due to fentanyl adulterant. His mom, Cristina, writes: “He was my oldest son. He made me a mother…People need to know that it is a disease and not a choice. Since he died on June 13, 2019, I have been transported into a parallel universe, where beautiful young people like my Jonathan die of this horrible disease, where mothers and fathers are grieving their ultimate loss. The stories are so similar. Since our tragedy, I have been feeling the need to help others and fight this terrible epidemic by bringing awareness and a better understanding to many people. He hid his addiction because he was ashamed, but we are not hiding it. We are not ashamed of our son. People need to know that it is a disease and not a choice.”
Read Jonathan's full story here.
Emily was an athlete, artistic, and smart. Her mom, Angela, shares: “Emily was the most amazing kid in the world, and I was so proud of her. She was intellectually, artistically and athletically gifted. I always told her that with so many talents comes the great responsibility to bring those gifts to the world. She died of a fentanyl overdose. Angela writes: “ Everything in my instincts told me something was seriously wrong. Although she was 21 and living on her own, we would see her often, and the more time I spent around her before her death, the more alarm bells went off in my head. I convinced the rest of our family to take part in an intervention to get her into treatment. We met on a Saturday with the interventionist and planned the intervention for the following Saturday. Emily died that Wednesday. My beautiful daughter, who was privileged and had every opportunity in life, had gone down this road. According to the autopsy report, Emily had six times what would be considered a therapeutic dose of fentanyl for the largest man. She was just a small young woman and didn't stand a chance. The fentanyl killed her almost instantly after she injected it.”
Read Emily's full story here.
“Scott was a normal boy growing up – full of life and love for his family,” shares his dad, Jim. “He struggled with mental health and an opioid use disorder. After three years in treatment, Scott Freund relapsed, which led to his suicide on Aug.1, 2010, just two days before his 21st birthday. He left a letter for his dad and family: "I have not found one person who can help me out. I love you Mom, Dad and [sister] Ashley so much and there's nothing you could have done better. I just can't stand being in my own mind, it's torture and it hurts and I've tried for years to get help but nothing works.”
Read remarks from Scott's father, Jim, here.
Denise’s sons, Matthew and Dillan, were born the same day, four years apart. She describes them: “With beautiful dark hair, gorgeous hazel eyes and thick eyebrows, Matthew could charm the shirt right off your back. Dillan’s charismatic smile and gregarious personality made you never want to leave his side. Both boys were extremely outgoing, involved in sports; Matthew especially enjoyed football and basketball while Dillan excelled in baseball, hockey and, in his later years, chess.” Denise lost her younger son Dillan at just 19 years old to a heroin overdose. The grief and trauma of the loss contributed to Matthew’s worsening opioid addiction and he died of a heroin overdose at 28 years old. Denise writes: “My boys had a bright future ahead of them but, because of their illness and lack of adequate treatment and medical coverage, their lives were cut tragically short. Had they suffered from diabetes or cancer, they would have been provided the medical care and attention necessary to live a full life and you wouldn’t be reading about them now. My boys had it right. Dillan told me, ‘Mom, I’m not a bad kid, I’m a sick kid.’”
Read Dillan and Matthew's full story here.
For a full list of stories, visit https://www.stop-overdose.org/.