Idaho charts path to fight opioid crisis

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Opioid and substance misuse is one of America’s — and Idaho’s — growing problems.

It is not a problem that just affects the individuals who feel condemned to addiction, either.

Families and communities are affected.

State and community resources are going to crime, incarceration and lower quality of life, instead of education and prosperity.

This week, my Opioid and Substance Use Disorder Advisory Group convened for its first meeting.

I assembled the group by executive order in June. The opioid crisis is a multi-faceted challenge. To overcome it, I needed a diverse group representing law enforcement, the judiciary, the medical profession, policy makers, and educators to come together and identify steps we can take to solve it.

Nationally, life expectancy in America has decreased for the first time because of the scourge of opioid and affiliated drug misuse. Nearly 150 deaths occur every single day. Crime is increasing. Prisons are overflowing. In Idaho, one in 12 students have misused prescription pain relievers.

I let the group know what I need from them: specific, actionable, attainable, and measurable goals to reverse course on opioid and substance misuse in Idaho. My expectation is for firm recommendations from the group that we can implement to solve the problem. We certainly don’t want muddled, diluted, or weak solutions.

I have full confidence that the group I assembled is up to the task. They are knowledgeable, experienced, and most importantly passionate about solving this problem.

It is important to acknowledge that Idaho has made significant strides in recent years in combatting the opioid crisis, particularly in the use of the prescription monitoring program. From 2017 to 2018, we lowered opioid prescriptions by 6 percent — with an increasing population. There were 21 million searches of the Idaho program in the last year, and 30 states including Idaho now share prescription data across state lines. The Idaho Legislature and I passed a law this year improving access to the life-saving medication Naloxone for those experiencing a drug overdose.

But there are also a lot of balls in the air that need coordination. New programs and funding are coming to Idaho from the Trump administration to help fight the battle. Attorney General Lawrence Wasden’s pursuit of legal action against opioid manufacturers may offer additional resources. The voter-approved Medicaid Expansion will offer abundantly more treatment options. Our increased investments in mental health and substance misuse treatment centers need to dovetail with all these other efforts.

Altogether, these investments and activities will turn the tide on the opioid crisis.

We can do this. Our coordination and focused efforts will bring about better education and prevention, more effective alternatives for pain, improved treatment options, and coordinated and enhanced mental health resources.

We must act for a better Idaho, and I appreciate the input of Idahoans as my advisory group advances its purpose in this fight for the future of our state.

Gov. Brad Little can be reached by mail at Box 83720, Boise, ID 83720; by phone at 208-334-2100, by fax at 208-854-3036, or by email at .

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