When President Trump delivers his State of the Union address Tuesday night, he’d be wise to ask Congress to join him in endorsing recent bipartisan recommendations from the National Governors Association (NGA) to respond to America’s opioid crisis.
The NGA calls on the Trump administration and Congress to:
? Give states more funding and other assistance to deal with the crisis, along with flexibility in deciding how to use the assistance for prevention, treatment and law enforcement programs. This includes giving states a greater ability to use Medicaid funding as they see fit to pay for drug treatment and mental health services.
? Provide federal training and set education requirements for health care providers who prescribe opioids. Also, give these providers more flexibility to prescribe drugs to treat opioid dependence.
? Provide more training and assistance to help public health and law enforcement agencies work together to share information about the opioid crisis.
? Improve coordination among federal agencies so they can more effectively respond to the crisis.
Sadly, many adults who abuse opioids will transition to heroin.
Embracing the NGA recommendation would be a positive step forward. Today and every day roughly 91 Americans will die from opioid overdoses.
Opioids are becoming increasingly deadly to Americans. In 2016, two-thirds of drug-related deaths involved opioids. In fact, since 1999 opioid-related deaths in the United States have increased nearly fourfold.
Drug abuse is a burden shared by every state. Nearly 63,600 Americans lost their lives to drug overdoses in 2016 – a 21 percent increase over the previous year. From 2000 to 2016 the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 600,000 people died from drug overdoses in the United States.
Opioids – which typically refer to oxycodone, hydrocodone, and fentanyl – are highly addictive painkillers. Nearly 3 in 10 Americans prescribed opioids for chronic pain will abuse them.
Some parts of the country are particularly at risk. The Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states, for example, have an extra-high concentration of opioid abuse. The state of Massachusetts had some of the highest opioid-related death rates in the country, at 1,990 deaths in 2016 alone. Maryland wasn't far behind with 1,821 deaths in 2016.
As opioid abuse skyrocketed in the United States in recent years, so too have heroin-related deaths. Since 2010, heroin-related deaths have increased more than 400 percent. Nearly 3.8 million Americans having used heroin at some point during their lifetimes.
This correlation is no surprise to researchers. Sadly, many adults who abuse opioids will transition to heroin. Heroin abusers are nearly four times more likely to have abused opioids in the previous year. That's because heroin is considered "pharmacologically similar" to opioids in the way that it releases dopamine to the brain.
In addition to wrecking lives, opioid abuse poses a massive burden on our economy. Adding up money lost from costs related to health care, addiction treatment, reduced work productivity and crime, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the economic burden of the opioid crisis is more than $78.5 billion per year.
The opioid epidemic is worsening each day. As Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, notes: "It is our responsibility to fight for both individuals and communities across the country to get the help they need in order to heal from this crisis."
She's absolutely right – which is why additional federal support, funding and partnerships are essential to defeating the opioid crisis. Each day without action by the Trump administration and Congress is a battle lost to the opioid war.