Editorial: What’s it going to take to curb opioid epidemic?

Published 10:24 pm Thursday, September 21, 2017

Too many people are dying from overdoses of prescription pain killers! We must do more to end this crisis!

That theme didn’t just come from this editorial board, or President Donald Trump last month when he said he would declare the ever-increasing death rate a national emergency. It also didn’t start with the death of Prince in the last year. Or actor Philip Seymour Hoffman in 2014. Or Heath Ledger in 2008.

No. The opioid overdose crisis is already the ripe old age of 20 — and despite heightened public awareness it shows no signs of slowing with age.

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Witness news this week from the Minnesota Department of Health that the number of Minnesotans who died from drug overdoses grew 9.2 percent from 2015 to 2016. Of those 583 people, the St. Paul Pioneer Press noted, 186 died from prescription opioids despite fewer such prescriptions being issued.

As a St. Cloud Times report stated, the number of drug overdose deaths in the state in 2016 is nearly six times higher than it was in 2000. That ratio holds somewhat true for Central Minnesota while outstate Minnesota’s 2016 number is more than 10 times that of 2000.

Sadly, that’s similar to the rest of the nation. Since 1999-2000, overdose deaths in the U.S. from prescription painkillers have roughly quadrupled.

Most troubling, though, is these numbers keep rising despite so much public awareness, which includes everything from massive educational efforts to mass distribution of medications that can stop an overdose from being fatal.

It’s enough to make you wonder: What’s it going to take for America to curb this addiction epidemic?

A big part of the solution is no different than what experts started suggesting when this deadly trend became clear about 10 years ago. Doctors (and patients) need to be acutely aware of opioid-based pain medications to the point of shifting pain-management plans away from them.

Two other key answers are continued attention and increased resources.

President Trump provided potential for big doses of both last month when he announced he would declare the opioid crisis a national emergency.

As USA Today reported last week, that was the top recommendation from a White House commission he formed earlier this year to study the problem.

However, it’s now been more than a month since the president said he would make the declaration and he has yet to officially do it.

That’s disheartening, especially when treatment experts tell USA Today such a declaration would allow more people to be treated for opiate addiction, especially those who rely on Medicaid for such coverage.

Trump’s commission also offered these important ideas:

— Mandate physician education initiatives to ensure that health care providers do not over-prescribe opioids, a major driver of the epidemic.

— Increase funding for medicated-assisted treatment, a highly effective regime to curb opioid addiction.

— Encourage states to expand access to Naloxone and allow the federal government to negotiate reduced prices for that life-saving opioid reversal medication.

However, curbing the epidemic is more than the job of the federal government.

States, especially through education and human service programs, can keep working to educate people of all ages about opioids. Meanwhile, new ideas also deserve to be heard.

After all, America has had this conversation for almost two decades and to be candid, those talks just aren’t proving effective.

— St. Cloud Times, Sept. 16

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Editorials from newspapers around the state of Minnesota.

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