A problem as widespread and as complex as the opioid epidemic deserves the full attention of the federal government and all its resources. That will finally happen now that President Donald Trump has declared the epidemic a national emergency.
It’s been a crisis for several years already, but has reached the point where it warrants all hands on deck, at every level of government. This isn’t just Ohio’s problem, after all.
Since 1999, the number of American deaths involving opioids has quadrupled, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. From 2000 to 2015, more than 500,000 people died of drug overdoses. Opioids account for the majority of those deaths.
If that isn’t grounds for a national emergency, we don’t know what is.
Ohio has the infamous distinction of leading the nation in overdose deaths. But officials haven’t exactly been burying their heads in the sand. Some, including state Rep. Robert Sprague, R-Findlay, saw the problem early on. But despite various proactive efforts, Ohio, like other places, hasn’t been able to slow the death toll.
This year’s overdose death numbers are believed to be running ahead of 2016, when more than 3,000 people died in Ohio.
Trump’s recognition of the public health problem should motivate the nation to work together. Prescription painkillers, heroin, fentanyl and other synthetic opioids aren’t just killing Democrats or Republicans, they’re killing everyone.
Trump should have acted sooner, of course, just as Ohio officials should have acted sooner to shut down the pill mills that resulted in thousands of people becoming hooked on prescription medicine and then turning to less expensive substances to feed their addiction.
Time will tell what impact Trump’s declaration will have, but it should mean more federal resources and funding for treatment and prevention efforts, and a heightened state of awareness about addiction.
We should all hope it puts the nation on a bipartisan path to creative solutions, a path Ohio has already started down.
Our U.S. senators, Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown, both have applauded Trump’s declaration and have been strong supporters of legislation aimed at various aspects of the opioid problem. Among other things, they have asked for additional funding and lifting of an outdated cap on the number of beds covered by Medicaid at residential treatment facilities, which may be one of the quickest ways to get people into treatment.
Trump’s declaration came following a recommendation from the administration’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis. Besides lifting the bed cap, the commission also suggested increasing access to medication-assisted treatment and also greater availability of naloxone, an opioid antidote.
Another idea is for more resources that would help Customs and Border Protection to keep fentanyl out of the U.S. Overdose deaths linked to fentanyl have been on the rise in recent years.
An emergency declaration won’t solve all the opioid problems that Ohio and other states are facing overnight. But Trump’s declaration should elevate the discussion about addiction and provide common ground for a divided country.
There’s no reason why politics can’t be set aside to help address a serious problem that could get worse before it gets better.
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