On October 26th, 2017, President Trump declared the Opioid epidemic a public health emergency. While it will be months until official numbers are released, in all likelihood 2017 was the deadliest on record for overdoses. But if trends continue, 2018 will be even worse.
When the CDC reported the numbers from 2016, they showed a 21% increase from 2015. This exponential growth in overdose deaths claimed more American lives in a single year than the entire Vietnam War. Fighting something that claims so many lives must be a national effort.
A Bipartisan Path Forward
In 2017, President Trump created a group to come up with ways to fight the overdose crisis. The bipartisan commission released their recommendations in November. In total, they had more than 50 recommendations on how local, state, and federal organizations could work to end opioid overdoses. The full report is available on The White House website, but some of their recommendations include:
- Streamline Payments: Make it easier for states to get the funding they need to fight opioid addiction by reducing the paperwork required.
- Better-Prepare First Responders: The commission recommends all emergency workers carry Narcan. This life-saving drug is one of the best ways to treat an overdose. Currently, some states don’t allow EMT’s, Police Officers or others to administer Narcan.
- Stop Incentivizing Pain Treatment: Currently, one thing that can hurt a doctor during their evaluation is a failure to treat self-reported pain. While managing pain is important, this ranking can have unintended outcomes. To get a better score, doctors might prescribe stronger painkillers than their patients need. They’ll reduce or eliminate their pain in the short term, but it puts patients at a higher risk of addiction.
This report represents the first step in creating a national strategy for saving lives. Now, it’s the responsibility of states and congress to make the laws needed to fight opioid overdoses. But will they?
Everything Shouldn’t Be A Talking Point
It’s a question that we shouldn’t have to ask, but need to. In today’s political climate, it’s tempting to make everything a partisan issue, but opioid addiction isn’t partisan. The drug kills indiscriminately, leaving grieving families from Philadelphia to the Pine Barrens.
Former Governor Chris Christie and current PA Governor Tom Wolf care deeply about ending the crisis. The promise to do something about opioids was a Talking point in the Democrat and Republican primaries. Their ideas of how to address the issue might differ, but both major parties say that they want to do something.
But going into an election year that widespread support might become a liability, not a strength. Recently, a former member of the President’s commission said:
“Everyone is willing to tolerate the intolerable — and not do anything about it,” said former Democratic Rep. Patrick Kennedy, who was one of six members appointed to the bipartisan commission in March. “I’m as cynical as I’ve ever been about this stuff.”
Some lawmakers are already making motions trying to assign blame for the epidemic. They’ll try and tie it to a failed government program, or lax regulation because it’s a talking point for their election campaigns. But now is not the time for political arguments on what pet policy is at fault.
Understanding what causes this crisis is important. We’re fighting against corrupt pharmaceutical companies and doctors to get justice for their victims. But that’s what the court of law is for. We have a process for accountability already, what we need now is a path forward.
Opioid addiction should not be a political talking point. Treating overdoses shouldn’t be something that both parties use as a bargaining chip at fundraisers. We are losing thousands of people every month to opioids. We don’t need talking points, we need to work on a solution.
In his speech, Donald Trump said that “we can be the generation that ends the opioid epidemic.”
We can be. We must be.
The President’s committee and his announcement were an excellent first step. We can’t let it be the only one.
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