It's Just One Word

It's just one word, but it's a word that will literally mean life or death for tens of thousands of our loved ones.

Let me start from the beginning. As you read this, Congress is putting the final touches on a bill to help fight the opioid addiction epidemic, which will kill more than 30,000 Americans this year. It's the first significant federal response to this crisis, and I'm so heartened to see our elected officials working hard on this issue.

One part of this bill in particular could save so many. It would restrict federal grants to states that require doctors use their state-run prescription database to check a patient's prescription history, before prescribing a painkiller like Vicodin or a sedative like Xanax. That's just common sense - doctors should know what their patients are taking before writing a prescription for a dangerous drug. How can anyone disagree with that?

So here's where the wording comes in.

Right now, the bill says states receiving federal grant money "shall" include a requirement that doctors check the database, also known as a Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP). But now, in the 11th hour, special interests are trying to sneak in and change that word "shall" to "may." That small change would render this part of the legislation useless. I'm not exaggerating when I say it means that people will die.

I guess one could say that I too have a special interest. Tragically l lost my son Brian on October 20, 2011, after his long battle of addiction to opioids. I had to bury my son. Yes, I have a special interest; to spare other families of this unspeakable tragedy. It is my life's mission.

These PDMPs are important because they help doctors spot early signs of addiction, such as doctor-shopping. They also prevent physicians from accidently prescribing a drug that could be lethal in combination with another the patient is taking. (For example, using an opioid like Vicodin along with a sedative like Xanax quadruples the risk of overdose.)

PDMPs exist in 49 states, but only eight require their use. Tying federal grants to this requirement will encourage more states to follow suit, and that will save tens of thousands of lives. Because where PDMP use is voluntary, studies show they rarely get used.

It's just one word in an 18,000-word bill. But if "shall" becomes "may," your son or daughter could be the next to fall victim to this horrific, but preventable epidemic. That single world could save so many families from being shattered.