The alarming rate of misuse and abuse of prescription medications and illegal drugs in the United States is a threat to our national security. Many do not realize the danger that lurks in their medicine cabinets, tempting children and adults. Even those who try to dispose of medications often do so improperly, introducing toxins into our environment that are not filtered from our food and water supply, posing risks we have yet to appreciate fully.

While most Americans use medications responsibly, those that do not are increasing in number, and the impact of their actions on our nation is staggering. Well over 50 million Americans have abused some medication at least once in their lifetimes. We must act to address this epidemic in a comprohensive and coordinated fashion.

Opioids pose a particular risk. These drugs can be very addictive, and once addicted, many Americans descend into a world centered on obtaining the next dose of the drug. Some tragically are addicted after their very first dose. Those addicted deteriorate until they seek drugs like heroin or fentanyl on the streets. For these addicts, the spiral may end in death.

More Americans die from heroin overdoses than from gun violence. Drug users often contract serious diseases, such as HIV or Hepatitis.  The opioid epidemic in the United States cost us over $500 Billion in 2015.  We cannot afford the cost of this epidemic, whether measured in dollars or lives.

Our nation must act to address this epidemic. Congress must provide law enforcement the tools needed to rein in this scourge.  The causes are multiple, and a coordinated approach is required. Our borders must be secured to limit transnational criminal organizations’ ability to traffic in drugs. Pill mills must be closed, while respecting the work of legitimate pain clinics and specialists. Prescribers must be re-educated to treat patients’ pain better and prevent addiction. Research into alternative pain therapies, whether medications or device based, is essential. Rehabilitation and addiction treatment must be improved and encouraged. The multi-pronged solution will require action at both the state and federal level. 

However, Federal involvement must be restrained. Too often we have seen a federal initiative lead to federal usurpation of the States’ autonomy. We do not need a national medical board or a national pharmacy board. We must protect our States’ rights to manage their affairs while acting to help them address this plague.  Congress must have leaders who will steadfastly limit the scope of the federal government’s involvement and vigorously protect the States’ autonomy. 

Congress must act aggressively to support our state authorities in this battle, yet not overstep its bounds to usurp our States’ sovereign vidual rights.  Aggressive action with careful oversight and restraint can fuel a successful solution to this national emergency.