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Opinion

Commentary: Courage, conviction and character needed to address opioid epidemic in O.C.

FILE - This Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017, file photo shows an arrangement of pills of the opioid oxycodone
“The opioid crisis exacerbates other countywide issues, like homelessness. If our local leaders are serious about improving the streets and lives of Orange County families, they must be willing to invest in effective prevention and treatment strategies,” says Rep. Harley Rouda.
(Patrick Sison / AP)

Orange County is home to pristine beaches, holiday boat parades, elite high school sports and, now, the highest opioid overdose mortality rate in Southern California.

A recent report released by the county illustrates the devastating reality of the addiction crisis in our backyard. Proportionately, opioid overdose deaths in Orange County far outpace those in Los Angeles, Riverside, Santa Barbara, San Bernardino, San Diego and Ventura counties.

This epidemic doesn’t discriminate by race, age, political party, or socioeconomic status — it affects every corner of our community. At the federal, state and local level, we must do everything in our power to stop this crisis in its tracks and prevent another generation from falling prey to opioids and other addictive substances.

A few weeks ago, President Donald Trump signed my bipartisan bill, which seeks to curb the opioid crisis, into law. My legislation, co-led with Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), strengthens the Office of National Drug Control Policy, improves supply and demand reduction programs, and enhances measurable progress objectives. These changes to existing drug policies ensure that our federal government can more effectively coordinate drug control efforts across the country.

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This bill is proof that Democrats and Republicans can come together to deliver common-sense solutions to help tackle some of our nation’s toughest problems — but it isn’t nearly enough. We must continue to address the roots of this problem.

Stigma surrounding addiction continues to plague our country. Each year, more Americans are dying from overdoses than died during the entirety of the Vietnam and Iraq wars. Yet, candid conversations about opioids are swept under the rug of the American consciousness.

Addiction is a disease and a public health crisis. Time and time again, medical and economic studies have shown that punishing Americans for their illness doesn’t save lives or better our communities. Improving the health and wellness of our friends, families and neighbors is best achieved with strategic, cost-effective and compassionate policies.

The opioid crisis exacerbates other countywide issues, like homelessness. If our local leaders are serious about improving the streets and lives of Orange County families, they must be willing to invest in effective prevention and treatment strategies.

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Those amongst us battling addiction, including many of our brave veterans who risked everything in defense of our lives and liberty, need readily available quality resources. However, in Orange County, they are often met with for-profit bad actors instead of comprehensive treatment.

Unscrupulous sober-living homes continue to take advantage of individuals in recovery and intensify this crisis. The SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act, a wide-ranging bipartisan bill, directed the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to develop best practices and refine guidelines for the operation of sober-living homes. I reached across the aisle to engage with the department and ensure these operating procedures provide a solid framework for every level of government to counteract unethical actors. This includes requiring proper support recovery programs and the identification of fraudulent operators.

As your representative, I will continue to do everything in my power to keep Orange County families healthy and safe. However, government can only do so much. Defeating a stigmatized public health crisis of this magnitude requires the participation of parents, neighbors and friends.

We can no longer feign ignorance about this crisis or relegate its impact to states we’ve never visited and people we’ll never meet. The opioid epidemic is here, and it will remain in Orange County until we have the courage, conviction and character to make change.

U.S. Rep. Harley Rouda, a Democrat, lives in Laguna Beach.

How to get published: Email us at john.canalis@latimes.com. All correspondence must include full name, hometown and phone number (for verification purposes). The Pilot reserves the right to edit all submissions for clarity and length.

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