I would guess that most everyone who reads this article has known someone who has had to cope with the opioid epidemic. It is an unfortunate but sobering fact. These drugs have an inescapable grasp on their victims, tearing apart families, churches, businesses and communities. I’ve personally witnessed families helplessly watch as their loved ones succumb to the overwhelming power of extreme addiction. It is absolutely heartbreaking. We all have an obligation—to those we love and to those who are just acquaintances—to help put an end to the opioid crisis.


As a State Representative in Raleigh, I sponsored the STOP Act and the HOPE Act, the two main legislative actions to combat the opioid crisis in North Carolina. I am very proud of the progress we have made because of these initiatives. Now, as I serve in Washington D.C. as a United States Representative, I want to continue to work on this important issue on a national scale. We have made progress, but we have so much more work to do.


The Third District of North Carolina is comprised of the fifth most veterans of any Congressional District in the entire country. I believe veterans’ healthcare is precisely the place to begin trying to make a difference in the national battle against the opioid crisis. We owe it to our veterans, who have sacrificed so much for our great nation, to protect them from the dangers and life-changing elements of opioid addiction. That’s why I introduced H.R. 5774 last week, the Veterans Heroin Overdose Prevention Examination (HOPE) Act. This bipartisan bill would direct the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs to further investigate veteran deaths caused by heroin and synthetic opioids.


Unfortunately, veteran deaths in the United States caused by non-prescribed opioid overdoses have skyrocketed. Between 2010 and 2016, opioid overdoses rose by a staggering 65 percent among veterans. During that same time period, veteran deaths caused by heroin nearly quintupled, and veteran deaths caused by synthetic opioids like fentanyl increased by more than five-fold. Meanwhile, the rate of opioid prescriptions within three months before death declined by more than 25 percent. This indicates that the majority of opioid overdoses are now stemming from hard or synthetic drugs that are not prescribed by health professionals, but rather obtained through illicit means. It is imperative that we organize and execute a thorough and rigorous study to stop this trend.


Upon conclusion of the investigation, the secretary would report the findings to Congress and outline suggestions on how to best proceed with veteran overdose prevention efforts to save lives. In order to craft policy that effectively provides a solution to the opioid epidemic among veterans, Congress must be properly educated on the subject matter. Our study would provide lawmakers an in-depth assessment of its root causes and exacerbating factors, hopefully leading us on a pathway to stem this national scourge.


Of course, when crafting the solution, we cannot lose sight of the fact that numerous veterans suffer from chronic pain and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Many of them rely on strong pain killers to get by on a day-to-day basis and we absolutely will not take away their access to these drugs or other methods that allow them to function daily. But we must find pathways to prevent them from resorting to non-prescribed opioids like illicit heroin and fentanyl as a result of their conditions.


Considering the immeasurable sacrifices veterans have made on our behalf, and the incredible trauma that many of them have gone through for us to enjoy peace and freedom here in the United States, it is altogether fitting that we ensure their safety at home. We here in the U.S. have benefited from their sacrifice. It is only right that we do all we can to help them lead normal lives away from the tragedy of opioid addiction.


Congressman Greg Murphy, M.D. serves in the United States House of Representatives for NC-03