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President Trump has declared the opioid crisis in America a ‘public health emergency.’
USA TODAY

America is facing the deadliest drug epidemic in our nation’s history, and we cannot let it become another Washington tagline.

The opioid crisis is tearing West Tennessee families and communities apart, while creating unprecedented challenges for law enforcement and first responders.

When I served as a U.S. Attorney from 2006-2008, my office worked to tackle dangerous drug trafficking. From Shelby County to Weakley County and everywhere in between, we worked with local, state and federal law enforcement to track the flow of drugs and cut it off at the source. 

Unfortunately, the opioid crisis continues to evolve and become more deadly with each passing day. 

Opioid overdose claimed the lives of 1,631 Tennesseans last year, the highest number in our state’s history. Here, in the 8th Congressional District, more than 3,500 overdoses and 272 deaths were reported in 2016. Sadly, these numbers are only expected to climb.

Many cases begin with prescription pain pills after an injury or major surgery, then escalate to heroin and cheaper synthetic products, like fentanyl and carfentanyl, broadening the scope of the epidemic.

During my tenure as West Tennessee’s U.S. attorney, I saw law enforcement’s role in combating drug trafficking.

Now, as a legislator, I have a new vantage point. Solving a problem this complex and widespread will take a comprehensive, all hands on deck approach.

This requires collaboration between law enforcement, first responders, drug courts, treatment providers and recovery centers

Our federal government also has a critical role to play, and that role is to provide necessary resources to those who are on the front lines of this battle.

That’s why I offered an amendment last month during the appropriations process that would transfer an additional $10 million to the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) program. The amendment passed the House of Representatives unanimously.

Our drug task forces in West Tennessee work tirelessly to prevent illicit narcotics from being trafficked up and down our highways. The 8th District’s two largest roadways — Interstates 40 and 69– have unfortunately made it easier for dealers to obtain and sell dangerous opioids. 

Providing adequate funds to the HIDTA program will afford the necessary equipment and overtime pay that law enforcement desperately needs to battle the opioid epidemic. 

Still, we must have a multifaceted strategy. We can prosecute drug offenders where it is warranted, but we must also treat and rehabilitate people suffering from addiction.

I recently spoke to a drug court judge in West Tennessee who is seeing promising results. With judicial supervision, drug courts support the long-term recovery of drug-addicted, non-violent offenders. 

This is a proven successful solution that saves taxpayer money and most importantly, saves lives by offering a path to recovery rather than prison time. 

This summer, I visited Aspell Recovery Center, a facility in Madison County that takes a holistic approach to treating addiction. I was moved to see the compassion of the counselors and inspired by the patients’ journeys to sobriety. 

I have seen firsthand the great work that is being done at treatment facilities like Aspell, and I know that this will be a key component of our comprehensive approach to tackling the opioid epidemic.

Education and public awareness are also essential. That’s why I joined President Donald Trump at the White House this week as he declared a public health emergency and solidified the federal government’s commitment to ending the opioid crisis.

No one should fight this alone.

West Tennesseans must work together to destigmatize addiction, talk about solutions and fight this epidemic of historic proportions. 

U.S. Rep. David Kustoff, R-Memphis, represents Tennessee’s 8th Congressional District.