While the COVID-19 health crisis has dominated the news over the past year, there is another deadly epidemic affecting every corner of the country: the opioid epidemic.

America has been hit hard by the opioid epidemic for years, and Iowa is no exception. As a doctor, I have seen firsthand the challenges created by opioid addiction and abuse prompting me to pass legislation as a State Senator removing the harmful pre-authorization for medicated assisted treatment for substance use disorder.

In recent years, we have seen a dramatic rise in prescription opioid abuse and overdoses across the United States. Opioids are highly addictive, and according to a 2017 survey, it is reported that more than 2 million Americans abuse opioids. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated issues with opioid abuse, and we must work to take on this issue immediately.

As a member of Congress, I am working every day to give Iowans the tools they need to tackle the opioid crisis head-on. Even something as simple as clearing out a medicine cabinet and safely disposing of medications can go a long way.

To help increase access to opioid disposal sites, I introduced the bipartisan Dispose Unused Medications and Prescription Opioids (DUMP Opioids) Act with Congressman David Trone of Maryland. Our commonsense legislation would ensure that certain medical facilities of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) have physical locations for the disposal of controlled substances medications. This is similar to the practice in Iowa wherein community pharmacies “take back” unused medications.

Many opioid abusers feed their addiction through unused prescription medication and controlled substances that belong to friends and family. This ease of access has created challenges that need solutions.

We can reduce access to dangerous substances by increasing access to drop boxes and allowing everyone, not just VA patients, to use them. This is a simple change to current law to make it easier for Americans to stay safe and save lives. By providing disposal sites for controlled substances, we are promoting safer practices to help prevent substance use disorder and overdoses.

Just last week, the DUMP Opioids Act unanimously passed the United States Senate. The Senate sponsor of the bill, Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana, did incredible work building support for the legislation in his chamber, and now it is time for Congressman Trone and I to finish the work and get this bill to the President’s desk.

With opioid related deaths up 35% in Iowa over the last year, we need to be more focused than ever on efforts to both treat and prevent addiction. Congress must work in a bipartisan manner and give our constituents the tools they need to tackle the opioid epidemic head-on. As a physician, I am proud to do my part to help combat this crisis.

Mariannette Miller-Meeks, a resident of Ottumwa, represents Iowa’s Second District in the United States House of Representatives.