Faces of Addictionby Representative Tim Walberg
Posted on 2016-01-06
WALBERG. Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to speak
tonight. As I stepped to the podium, I noticed two of the values that
America has etched into or has carved into the Speaker's rostrum,
``liberty'' and then, to my left, ``peace.''
They are two values that we hold dear; yet, they are two values that
are lost to people when they come under the cruel, cruel domination of
heroin and other opiates. So it is good for us to talk about this
tonight but, more importantly, for us to do something about it.
I thank Congressman Guinta, Congresswoman Kuster, and my colleagues who are participating in this Special Order, which highlights the ongoing epidemic of heroin and prescription drug abuse.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today as a member of the Bipartisan Task Force to Combat the Heroin Epidemic in order to discuss a growing public health crisis in the United States and, more personally, to discuss a crisis occurring in my home district, the Michigan Seventh.
You see, we can talk statistics over and over again, but, really, this is all about lives: friends, family, neighbors, people who are highly respected, and people whom we wouldn't know. Yet, they are impacted. The tragic stories of prescription drug abuse and fatal overdoses hit close to home in far too many Michigan communities.
Through September of this year, Washtenaw County, the home of the University of Michigan, suffered 41 opioid overdose deaths.
Local law enforcement officials in Monroe County--the gateway to Michigan from Ohio--believe the number of heroin overdose deaths in 2015 will top those in 2014.
In Jackson County, which is in the center of the State, the total number of drug overdoses has nearly tripled in the last 5 years. In 2015, 131 overdoses were reported.
These are troubling statistics, but, again, they are about lives, people. Behind these numbers are real individuals and families who have been affected by this tragic epidemic.
On May 17, 2010, Andrew Hirst died of a heroin overdose at the age of 24. For his father, Mike Hirst, a respected businessperson in Jackson, Michigan, this tragic loss has led him to dedicate himself to stopping heroin overdoses in the Jackson area by sharing the experience of his son's death and the life of his family.
For the past 5 years, Mike has counseled addicts, supported families, and mentored at-risk youths away from heroin and opiate drugs through his foundation, Andy's Angels. In addition, he has led educational efforts to inform people of the link between prescription opioid use and heroin addiction.
He has also teamed up with local police agencies to investigate heroin dealers in order to eliminate access points for this deadly drug. In recognizing his tireless efforts, the Jackson Citizen Patriot newspaper recently named Mike Hirst their Citizen of the Year.
Fortunately, Mike is not alone in this fight. Across Michigan's Seventh District, communities are ramping up education and prevention efforts as well as enforcement strategies. For example, Monroe County recently held its third annual Prescription Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit.
Jackson County held its second drug summit in December, and the County Prosecutor's Office plans to host a series of additional meetings in 2016. I applaud them for that.
Local efforts to raise awareness and to fight this growing epidemic are also underway in Branch, Eaton, Hillsdale, Lenawee, and Washtenaw Counties. Fighting against heroin and opioid abuse will take the work of citizens, treatment providers, law enforcement, and elected officials at every level, including each of us.
In Congress, we must continue to pursue legislative solutions to improve the coordination between Federal agencies and the States and to equip our first responders on the front lines.
Just as importantly, Mr. Speaker, we can promote awareness in our communities and support those who have been affected by this crisis.
Tonight's speeches aim to raise the profile of this issue, to increase education, and to honor people like Mike Hirst who are fighting to save others from the dangers of drug overdoses and to bring liberty and peace back to people's lives.