These are the stories of the opioid crisis

Jun 13, 2018 | Communications •

House Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) led this morning’s House Republican Leadership press conference and was joined by representatives from states across the country as they highlighted personal stories behind the opioid crisis.

Addiction doesn’t care about race, gender, income, or background, and the photos that House Republicans were holding of people personally impacted by the opioid crisis represent a country united in a common tragedy.

This month, the House will vote on dozens of bills that focus on treatment and recovery, prevention, protecting communities, and fighting fentanyl. For more information on our work, visit OpioidCrisis.gop

House GOP Chair McMorris Rodgers:

“This is Kristin. She’s from Eastern Washington. She’s struggled with an opioid addiction for the last eight years. She was a successful, highly competitive swimmer when she was injured. She was prescribed some opioids, and it has led to a heroin addiction, which has led to four stints in rehab, losing custody of her kid, and numerous job firings. Her addiction has torn her family apart, and it is not solved. This is a family that’s close to me as well as many in Eastern Washington, as she’s my District Director’s sister.

“They need help. And they need hope.

“For families like Kristin’s, the People’s House is taking more comprehensive steps this week to address this growing opioid crisis all across America. We are focused on increasing our understanding as to how we prevent addiction, protect our communities, crack down on the foreign shipments of fentanyl from places like Mexico and China.

“As this issue is hitting home for me in Eastern Washington, it is all across the country. Nationwide, 116 people die every day from opioid-related death. Law enforcement and first responders have raised the alarm about the access to fentanyl. Just a few mg can be fatal. The amount of fentanyl that would be found on the ear of Lincoln on the penny can be deadly. Keeping fentanyl off the streets is saving lives.

“I encourage everyone to visit opioidcrisis.gop. There, you can find a comprehensive list of all of the legislation that we are working on. These are stories from different people, different hometowns, different walks of life, but they all have in common the tragedy that many families are enduring across the country.

“We are united in doing everything that we can to help these families.”


Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Greg Walden (R-OR):

“At the Energy and Commerce Committee, we’ve spent the last year and a half working on legislation and working on the investigation. You all are familiar with that. The culmination of our work has been brought to the floor this week, the first of 57 pieces of legislation out of our committee alone. Virtually all of which are bipartisan or unanimous.

“Just this past January, Amanda, whose picture I have here today, was seeking relief from pain surrounding her mental illness. Tragically, she ended up dying from a fentanyl overdose. Her father came before our committee and bravely shared his family’s story. He hoped that their loss would help spur Congress to modernize federal laws. Sadly, Amanda’s story, as you’ll hear today, is not unique. All of us know somebody, directly or indirectly, affected by this crisis. Truly it is the crisis next door.

“My colleagues here today each have similar stories in their districts, and we will have them speak about those. The people in these photos that we rallied around bipartisan legislation — it’s for their families, their friends, and for the future of our country. The ones left behind in their heartbreak — they expect us to act. And we are.”


Rep. Tim Walberg (R-MI):

“This is a picture of Jessie Grubb, and it tells a story that shouldn’t have happened. Jessie’s Law was passed yesterday on the floor of the House. Jessie was a recovering addict. She had come to Michigan, was making it, both in education and the workforce, and preparing for a marathon. She had an injury, subsequently had a surgery. That surgery dealt with an infection as well. A part was put in her body.

“She and her parents both informed the surgeons and the doctoral staff at the hospital that she was a recovering addict, so opioids shouldn’t be part of her therapy. Sadly, that didn’t make it to the discharging physician and he discharged her with 50 OxyContin pills. She went home, and the next night overdosed. Jessie Grubb is no longer with us. But her story goes on, and it’s the story that speaks to why we’re doing what we’re doing: to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”


Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY):

“My home state of Kentucky suffers from the third-highest opioid mortality rate in the country. So many of these stories are stories of tragedy — this is a story of hope. This is Roger, with his two kids. Roger arrived at Shepherd’s House recovery program in Lexington, Kentucky on May 1, 2015, after making parole. When Roger arrived, he was hopeless. His belongings fit into a single garbage bag. He was unemployed and unemployable. He had not seen his kids in two and a half years and his family had given up on him.

“Roger told the people at Shepherd’s House that he didn’t know how to be responsible anymore, how to pay his bills, how to show up on time, stay out of jail, and most importantly, he had no idea how to stay sober. But Shepherd’s House helped him change that perspective, and through a housing program — a long-term, transitional housing program — he learned how to build a support network that would teach him how to be a father. Soon he was back to visiting his children on the weekends.

“Eventually, Shepherd’s House allowed Roger to find freedom that he was never able to obtain before. He was able to get his own apartment for the first time, bills in his own name, and most importantly, Roger stayed sober. He is now the program director at an intensive outpatient program for Shepherd’s House, helping the very type of people that Roger once was. We are very happy that this week, the House of Representatives will be voting on our bill, the THRIVE Act…this legislation will provide housing choice vouchers for places like Shepherd’s House to provide hope for long-term addiction recovery.”


Rep. Lou Barletta (R-PA):

“This is a picture of Brayden Schlier and his mother. Brayden was born addicted, released from the hospital back to his mother, who was still an addict. Protective services were not notified, and at six weeks old, Brayden was in bed with his mother who was high on three different opioids. Brayden’s mother had rolled over on top of him and suffocated him to death.

“This case led to a national investigation as to the federal dollars that are going to the states to make sure that hospitals and doctors are reporting to the federal agencies, protective services, before a baby is released. We found that only nine states were actually using that money as they should, which had led to a bill that I had passed holding the federal government accountable, the states accountable, the hospitals accountable so that other children like Brayden do not lose their lives. [Rep. Barletta’s bill, the Treating Barriers to Prosperity Act of 2018 (H.R. 5294), will be on the floor today].”


Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-MN):

“I’m carrying a photo of Keegan Duffy, a Minnesotan who unfortunately was addicted and died of an overdose. He was a successful masters student, who became a professional computer engineer, and like many Minnesotan families, succumbed to addiction. It’s a tragedy that can be avoided, where he had chronic back pain and his doctor prescribed him 120 pills for back pain, which led to his addiction. I’m thankful that through our actions and bipartisan work, we will pass solutions that will help many families like Keegan’s avoid this tragedy in the future.”


Rep. Susan Brooks (R-IN):

“I’m holding a picture of Aaron Sims, who died of an overdose. What’s amazing about him is his mother, Justin Phillips, started an organization called Overdose Lifeline. It raises funds to try to ensure first responders and others, including family members, have Narcan, have Naloxone, that life-saving medication to stop the overdose. In Indiana, we passed what was called Aaron’s Law, named on behalf of Aaron Sims, because we need to make sure we provide that Narcan and all of that hope for the families and those who are addicted, to prevent that overdose.”


Rep. Buddy Carter (R-GA):

“I’m currently the only pharmacist serving in Congress. I have a unique perspective on this particular situation, having practiced pharmacy for over 30 years. I saw this epidemic evolve over the years. I’ve seen the impact it has had. I’ve seen lives ruined, careers ruined, families ruined…I want to applaud Chairman Walden and the Energy and Commerce Committee on the work they’ve done on this particular subject, because it is important…what do we do to help those two and a half million people out there who are addicted?

“I’m here to tell you today, if you’re within the sound of my voice, and you have an addiction problem, reach out to your physician. Reach out to your pharmacist, to your friend, to your family member and tell them ‘I want to get better. I need help’.” We need you, and we want you to get better. This legislation…is out there to help you, help you get over this addiction. That’s what we want to do.”


Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO):

“I want to introduce you to Samantha Huntley. She was a beautiful girl, a straight-A student, cheerleader, and she was in a car accident when she was 16 years old. She broke her back in three places. As a result, she was put on prescription painkillers, and sadly, after that, a friend introduced her to heroin to continue to try to address the pain. She overdosed, and now her mom is alone and doesn’t have anyone to celebrate Mother’s Day with.

“I applaud her mother, Julie Oziah-Gideon, for participating in over seven high school assemblies that I held this spring, challenging young people to choose to be drug-free and warning them of the problems. I truly believe that this week is a historic week in our nation’s history, where we as members of Congress on both sides of the aisle are coming together, saying ‘no more’.

“It’s a tragedy, when in 2016 we lose more Americans to addiction, opioid overdose, than died during the entire Vietnam War. This is an opportunity, a turning point in our nation, where we are rallying together and passing over 60 bills that will address all aspects of this problem, and I feel confident that as we continue to work together in the future, we will look back to this week to say we made a difference, we made a change, and lives are being saved because of what we’re doing here.”


Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA):

“I want to thank all my colleagues who are sharing these stories. Both their stories and others are too often occurring in our country. I want to talk a little bit about Kemper from Slidell, Louisiana.

“Kemper’s mom was addicted to opioids. She’d gotten in a car accident, started getting prescribed drugs, and eventually became an addict while she was pregnant with Kemper.

“When Kemper was born, he was born addicted to drugs. It’s actually a syndrome called NAS. Unfortunately, according to the Centers for Disease Control, about once every 25 minutes a baby is born addicted to opioids, NAS. That’s how serious this epidemic is.

“Fortunately, Kemper was able to beat the odds, and now he’s 3 years old, and he’s very healthy. But there are too many stories like this happening across our country, and that’s why it’s so important that this package of bills to address this opioid crisis all across our country is so important to saving lives, and will be effective once it’s carried out.”


Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA):

“There is not one place in America where this crisis does not touch. More than 100 people will die today, tomorrow the same. Our friends, family, and some of the brightest stars we’ve had became addicted unbeknownst to them …. This is not the first time we have dealt with this subject and you can tell this is personal to so many members in Congress.

“In the last Congress, we passed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act and the 21st Century Cures Act. We also added four billion in the omnibus to address this crisis. We are spending this week and next week to pass more than 70 bills dealing with this addiction.

“This is not the first step and this is not the last step–it is simply the next step. This is destroying the fiber of this nation and we should battle it with seriousness…. America deserves better and families need to be protected–that is what our goal is, that is our mission, and that is what we will accomplish.”


Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI):

“You’ve heard some stories here today. Let me give you a number: 115. 115 lives lost every day in America.

“Addiction can feel all-consuming. It can seem impossible to live out your true purpose. But it does not lower the inherent value of a human life.

“Every life has meaning, and no drug can take that away.

“All of us can offer our compassion to one another so that people struggling feel that they have a place to turn.

“That is also something we’re tackling here today. Look—this is Michelle Jaskulski. It’s a really good Wisconsin name.

“This is Michelle and one of her sons. She’s got two sons. Former high school athletes. Yet, as the case is so often, they became addicted to prescription painkillers, from injuries, and then, later, heroin.

“They are alive, they are clean now. But it was a long road there, and Michelle still worries—as you all know, sobriety is—it’s very fragile.

“Friends and relatives facing addiction, they don’t fully recover, it takes a long time.

“The one thing that strikes me about how she describes dealing with her sons’ addiction: It’s the pervasive loneliness.

“She says that she felt like no one else was dealing with her same struggle. She felt disconnected from her friends, she felt disconnected from her parents, from her faith.

“It goes to show that this can be such an isolating battle. Not just as one struggling with drug use, but for those trying to figure out how they can be there for their loved ones. Mothers taking care of their sons.

“But there is hope that came out of Michelle’s family’s struggle.

“Michelle has made it her mission to help families like hers get through the wilderness of drug addiction and the difficult road to recovery. She has been a tireless advocate for more resources to prevent and treat addiction.

“Congress has heard that call, too. We are taking action to tackle this opioid epidemic.

“Among other things, these bills will stem the flow of opioids into our country. They change the way opioids are prescribed and encourage non-opioid treatments. And they crack down on deadly synthetic drugs like fentanyl.

“And then they strengthen resources for prevention and treatment, including establishing more comprehensive recovery centers.

“We’ve learned a whole lot about this problem in a short period of time.

“In fact, the recovery community—the community that Michelle now helps uphold—is one of the most resilient. This is what she is doing now with her life—making sure that other families don’t fall into the trap that hers did.

“We should applaud that model of support. Our institutions should emulate and encourage this kind of fellowship.

“In those overcoming addiction, and in those supporting them, this is where I see America at its strongest.

“People coming together to help each other through these difficult times, getting rid of the isolation, and having a multi-pronged approach to tackle this opioid crisis.

“This is all about restoring hope, it’s about lifting up communities, and it’s about, hopefully, saving lives.”