By Keele Smith
Opiate addiction is now a national epidemic with a firm grasp in the Northeast.
On Tuesday, Vermont Rep. Peter Welch spoke with city and state leaders in Burlington Vermont about his efforts to address the issue in Washington D.C.
"I've had patients go to jail, lose custody of their beautiful children, lose their homes," Dr. Patricia Fisher with UVM Medical Center said.
Fisher has seen the devastating effects of opiate addiction with her own patients, from medications she was prescribing.
"I've had patients die. Usually they die unintentionally, either they take too much or they melt prescription tablets and inject the medication into their veins," Fisher said.
This is just a glimpse of a much larger problem not only in Vermont but across the country that Rep. Welch is working to tackle on Capitol Hill.
Last week, a House committee passed a package of bills, including an initiative by Welch, to help law enforcement gain real time information about drug overdoses.
"This package of legislation is widespread bipartisan acknowledgement about the severity of this crisis that is plaguing our communities across the country," Welch said.
Now the bills will head to the House floor for a vote.
But Welch also wants federal funding to help local communities pay for programs to address opioid addiction.
"A number of us have sent a letter to Speaker Paul Ryan asking for an emergency appropriation of $600 million," Welch said.
Vermont Health Commissioner Harry Chen said the bills would help save lives by providing better access to the overdose reversal drug Naloxone, protect families and children and help prevent opiate addiction in the first place.
"Ultimately, it will provide greater guidance to prescribers to help tamp down on one of the great drivers of our crisis which is overprescribing," Chen said.
"What we're doing in Washington is finally catching up to what Governor Shumlin acknowledged in Vermont a few years ago," Welch said.
Welch credits Gov. Peter Shumlin with first shining a light on the issue when he devoted his entire state of the state address to the topic in 2014.
Welch said addressing the challenge will require local leadership along with federal resources and this is one step in that direction.
"We've come a long way in a short period of time but we still have a long way to go around our community and around our state," Fisher said.