State Politics

Opioids are leading cause of drug-induced deaths in Idaho. Here’s how Little hopes to change that

Idaho Gov. Brad Little on Thursday signed an executive order aimed at combating opioid and substance misuse in Idaho.

Opioids, including prescription pain relievers and synthetic opioids such as fentanyl and heroin, are the leading cause of drug-induced deaths in Idaho. Opioid prescriptions are dispensed in Idaho at a higher rate than 34 other states, and Idaho ranks 25th in the country for prescription pain reliever misuse, according to the governor’s office.

“The opioid crisis is taking lives and destroying families in Idaho,” Little said in a news release. “My executive order uses a broad, holistic approach to examining the crisis, so we can develop solutions that save lives and create a brighter future for our state.”

The executive order establishes an advisory group “that will ensure we are investing in the right strategies and programs to make a meaningful difference for our state,” Little said.

Melinda Smyser, new administrator of the Governor’s Office of Drug Policy, will serve as chairwoman for the advisory group, which will research, evaluate and provide the governor recommendations on the following issues:

  • policies directing law enforcement and prosecutors to refer first-time, nonviolent drug offenders to local crisis centers rather than arrest and indictment;
  • prescription limitations and practices, including use of the prescription monitoring program;
  • mandates for reporting overdose deaths;
  • best practices used in other states to combat opioid and substance abuse.

The governor also wants to increase programs educating the medical community about opioid regimens, risks and alternatives, and public awareness campaigns about opioid risks.

The advisory group will include representatives of the Department of Health and Welfare; Board of Medicine; Board of Dentistry; Board of Pharmacy; Department of Correction; Idaho State Police; State Department of Education; Division of Veterans Services; Idaho Indian Tribes; and the medical, hospital, pharmacy, treatment and insurance communities. The group also will include a member of the Idaho House of Representatives, a member of the Idaho Senate, a member of the judiciary, a county sheriff, a county prosecutor and a city police chief.

In addition to creating the advisory group, Little said he is directing agencies within his administration to do more to fight opioid and substance misuse. Here are the agencies involved:

The Board of Pharmacy will research and deploy funding mechanisms to integrate prescription drug monitoring program data with electronic medical records and pharmacy dispensing systems.

The departments of Health and Welfare, Administration, and Insurance will research and formulate plans to reduce administrative and payment barriers, promote better access to medication-assisted therapy, and promote opioid-alternative pain management in existing health plans.

The Governor’s Office of Drug Policy will continue efforts to promote and broaden drug disposal programs; evaluate and pursue further opioid education, prevention measures, and resiliency training; and encourage and partner with county and local law enforcement, paramedics, and correctional officials to supply naloxone and apply for grant funding for naloxone distribution.

The Department of Correction, in conjunction with the Department of Health and Welfare, will research and plan a pilot program utilizing a medication-assisted therapy program for offenders convicted of opioid possession or use.

The opioid epidemic accounted for more than 42,000 deaths nationwide in 2016 alone.

Little has signed nine executive orders since taking office in January. In addition to the opioids advisory group, Little has issued executive orders creating two new advisory groups, one to examine regional government efficiency and the other to examine statewide broadband infrastructure.

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