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Idaho can’t arrest its way out of the opioid epidemic — we need a comprehensive approach

These Idahoans’ goals: Reduce opioid overdoses by 50 percent

Treasure Valley health care providers, law enforcement, prosecutors and other public agencies talk about collaborating to tackle the growing opioid crisis in July 2018.
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Treasure Valley health care providers, law enforcement, prosecutors and other public agencies talk about collaborating to tackle the growing opioid crisis in July 2018.

Human history is filled with stories of wonder drugs that promise to cure any ailment from baldness to an upset stomach. Opioids have been used for thousands of years, and abuse of them is not new.

For centuries, opioids have been used to ease pain, alleviate suffering, shorten coughs and treat wounds on the battlefield.

Physicians have struggled to help their patients find ways to control acute or chronic pain, and the health care industry added pain as the fifth vital sign in the 1990s. Around the same time, we began to see an increase in opioid prescriptions to help people deal with pain from injuries, surgeries, cancer or other ailments.

Perhaps you know someone who finally found relief for chronic pain with an opioid. Over months and years, your friend or family member returned to the doctor to refill the opioid prescription, not knowing he was physiologically or psychologically addicted to the medication, or the consequences of abusing opioids.

Pharmaceutical companies developed more opioids with stronger levels because the drugs were becoming as common as aspirin or ibuprofen.

Nobody saw the large wave driving to the shore at blazing speed. Today, we’re experiencing the devastating effects of opioid misuse and addiction.

The opioid crisis did not stem from a single source; indeed, overprescribing, a lack of access to quality health care, social and economic factors, and a slow response from state and federal government have all contributed to our current situation.

National data surrounding the opioid crisis are chilling.

  • The United States has less than 5 percent of the global population yet uses roughly 80 percent of the world’s supply of opioids. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/National Center for Health Statistics)

  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 12.5 million Americans have reported misusing opioids and that opioid abuse results in 89 deaths per day in the United States.

  • In 2015, doctors wrote 300 million opioid prescriptions, and 12.5 million people reported misusing opioids. (CDC/NCHS)

  • Opioid abuse is not limited to adults. About 1,100 adolescents start to misuse opioids each day. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)

  • Women age 45 and older have a higher rate of opioid use disorder than men. (BlueCross BlueShield Association)
  • 13.3 out of 100,000 Americans died of an opioid-related death in 2016 — 114 per day. (National Institutes of Health)

Opioid use disorder has no boundaries; it does not discriminate among demographic, neighborhoods, cities, towns or rural areas. Nearly 466 Idahoans have died of an opioid-related overdose between 2012-16. Overall, opioid-related deaths in our state increased 24 percent from 2015 to 2016.

Idaho cannot arrest its way out of opioid addiction. Instead, we must craft a comprehensive approach to the crisis including education, prevention, treatment and enforcement.

All of us can play a critical role in combating the scourge of opioids. We need to educate providers, patients and the public about opioid use and misuse. Prescribers play a pivotal role to improve their prescription writing. We also need to expand access to treatment for those suffering from opioid misuse disorder.

At home, locking up all medications can keep them out of the hands of children and adolescents. The Idaho Office of Drug Policy encourages everyone to participate in the Lock Your Meds Campaign.

Before accepting an opioid prescription, we encourage everyone to talk with their clinician and ask the 12 Questions listed on Ask why your physician is prescribing an opioid, how long you should take it, alternatives to opioids and the proper way of discarding the unused portion of the prescription.

Anyone with an expired, unused or unwanted prescription can safely and anonymously dispose of it at the National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day on October 27 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Blue Cross of Idaho’s main campus in Meridian. Citizens can always dispose of unwanted medication at the Meridian Police Department or by returning it to your doctor or pharmacist.

If you or a family member needs help with opioid addiction, please call the Substance Abuse and Mental Help Services Administration at 800-622-HELP. This is a free, confidential treatment and referral information service.

Jeff Lavey is chief of the Meridian Police Department, and Daniel Meltzer the senior vice president and chief medical officer for Blue Cross of Idaho.

If you go

The Drug Enforcement Administration lists four Take-Back Day collection sites that are open 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday in the Treasure Valley.

  • Meridian: Blue Cross of Idaho, 3000 E. Pine Ave.
  • Boise: Ada County Sheriff’s Office, 7200 Barrister Dr.
  • Garden City: Fred Meyer, 5425 W. Chinden Blvd.
  • Nampa: Nampa Civic Center, 311 3rd St. S.
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