- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 11, 2018

A new memorial wall has been erected on the National Mall, this one dedicated to the thousands of victims of fatal opioid overdoses in 2015.

Titled “Prescribed to Death,” the mobile memorial was unveiled Wednesday during a ceremony featuring federal officials, safety advocates and victims’ relatives — part of its nationwide tour, which began in November in Chicago.

“Overdoses on opioids — such as prescription pain pills or heroin — are killing 116 Americans every single day, more than 40,000 lives a year,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar II said during the ceremony. “Think about this: Almost 1-in-100 American babies are born dependent on drugs.”

The nonprofit National Safety Council set up and unveiled the memorial, which consists a wall of 22,000 pills, each of which has been carved with a facial image of someone who died of an opioid overdosed in 2015. A second wall in front of it depicts some of the dangerous medications that can be found in family medicine cabinets.

At the ceremony, one mother shared her story of how quickly opioids change lives. Missy Owens of Cobb County, Georgia, talked about her son, Davis, who had received awards and accolades in high school for good grades, for his participation in student government and for community service.

“As senior class president, he spoke to and encouraged over 3,000 people in attendance [at his graduation] to have a great life. A year and a half later, he was found dead in his car of a heroin overdose that began with prescription medicine from my family medicine cabinet,” said Ms. Owens, co-founder of the Davis Direction Foundation, a nonprofit that helps opioid addicts and their families.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were more than 64,000 drug overdose deaths in 2016, which saw a sharp increase of such deaths attributable to synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, with more than 20,000 overdose fatalities.

President Trump declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency last year and appointed a commission to study it. The commission has recommended tougher enforcement of drug-trafficking laws, ordering a reduction in opioid prescriptions and providing treatment for addiction.

“This is not a federal or a state issue. It’s not a red state or a blue state issue. This is a human crisis,” said Deborah Hersman, president of the National Safety Council. “It knows no race, no age, and no gender. And it demands bipartisan solutions and national leadership.”

Mr. Azar touted the president’s promise to reduce prescriptions for opioids by one-third over the next three years.

“Opioid prescribing has started to decrease in America, but we are still prescribing three times as many pills today as we did in 1999,” the health secretary said. “That’s just unacceptable.”

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway praised Mr. Trump for signing in March the government spending bill that allocates $3.3 billion to combat opioid addiction and provide treatment services.

“We want to make sure we are connecting individuals with the treatment and the care that they need. This president has put forth treatment and recovery as a major priority,” said Mrs. Conway. “And Congress headed the president’s call and backed it up with billions and billions of dollars that no other administration has ever had.”

The memorial is scheduled to be on display at the National Mall until April 18.


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