On May 11, the House of Representatives approved H.R., 4969, the John Thomas Decker Act, legislation that will help prevent young athletes injured on the field to succumbing to addiction after receiving a prescription for painkillers. The legislation was approved by unanimous voice vote and was one of a number of bills passed by the House to combat the heroin and opioid abuse epidemic.
Meehan’s bill is named in honor of John Thomas Decker, a young Pennsylvania man found dead of a heroin overdose by his parents earlier this year. Decker had been injured playing pickup basketball as a teen, was prescribed opioids to ease the pain and became hooked. His addiction persisted through his twenties until he succumbed to an overdose in January at age 30.
Meehan told Decker’s story on the House floor during debate over the legislation.
“Nationwide, young people who play sports and suffer injuries have become a demographic particularly susceptible to addiction,” said Congressman Meehan. “Adolescent males playing sports are twice as likely to be prescribed painkillers and four times more likely to abuse them than non-athletes.”
“Opioids are not aspirin,” Meehan said. “Prescriptions can grow into addictions and the vast majority of heroin users arrive at the drug after abusing prescription narcotics. The danger is real. And too many kids begin a painkiller prescription after a torn ACL or a compound fracture without fully knowing the risks involved.”
A 2015 study by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation found that almost 60 percent of the college-age youth surveyed thought prescription pain medication was less risky than heroin. Nearly 40 percent said they wouldn’t know where to go for help if they experienced an overdose.
The Decker Act requires the Department of Health and Human Services to study the educational resources available to youth athletes and their families about the dangers of opioid use. The Department will report the findings publicly and work with doctors, parents, coaches and others to get the right information into the hands of those at risk.
“Together with the other bills approved by my colleagues this week, the House has taken important action to put a dent in the opioid crisis,” said Meehan. “I’m grateful to all my colleagues on both sides of the aisle for supporting this legislation and for their diligent work to address this epidemic. It’s my hope the John Thomas Decker Act will be included in House-Senate compromise legislation and sent to the President’s desk.”
Meehan, a former Delaware County District Attorney and federal prosecutor, has also introduced legislation that addresses the opioid abuse crisis by incentivizing states to share prescription data from pharmacists that dispense certain addictive narcotics. Another Meehan bill to address opioid abuse requires Medicare prescription drug plans to establish a drug management program for at-risk beneficiaries.