The opioid epidemic is widespread, affecting every state in the U.S. and even reaching numerous countries around the world. The problem has citizens, law enforcement, healthcare professionals and all levels of the government asking what can be done to treat and prevent individuals hooked on dangerous and deadly opioid drugs.
The answer isn’t a simple, one but it requires levels of cooperation among all involved in the fight. One state has shown how working together for a common good is done, and as a result, Idaho is becoming a safer place, day by day. The state has come up with a plan touching on many important factors—prevention, treatment and harm reduction—in order to combat rising levels of addiction and overdose-related deaths.
How Idaho is Affecting Change
Idaho has done an excellent job of showing that change can happen when everyone is willing to work together. Professionals throughout the state have put together a comprehensive overview of the addiction problem and outlined ways in which medical, legal and government intervention can help solve the issue. This includes area specific plans to address the fact that Idaho has a wide diversity of urban, rural and agricultural areas, each of which will present its own struggles and will require its own approach.
More urban areas may have the luxury of being in close proximity to treatment resources, but being in the city, with a more diverse range of drugs available, also poses a problem. According to SAMHSA, those living in urban areas are more likely to mix substances they abuse and have a harder time maintaining long-term sobriety because of the ease of availability of substances. Additionally, among those admitted to treatment from urban areas, it was reported that they are twice as likely to be daily users compared to those from rural areas.
Rural areas are a difficult population to address from a treatment standpoint because of a lack of nearby resources. For those living in rural areas, it’s almost guaranteed that the individual will have to travel to receive most types of treatments beyond a primary care doctor or therapist. Depending on the area, even those resources may not be readily available.
Those in rural areas are also more likely to experience wait-lists to see a provider because of a limit in the number of providers. For those who do require travel, this can also have economic implications, as most of the population in rural areas live below the poverty line. Finally, it’s noted that substance abuse in rural populations starts at a younger age, and prevention methods, such as education, must be introduced earlier to be effective.
Methods Being Used in Idaho
One issue the state is making a massive effort to address is over-prescription of narcotics by physicians, long-term treatment protocols using narcotics and better oversight of patients to cut down on doctor-shopping, where patients go from doctor to doctor getting multiple narcotic prescriptions to either sell or abuse. Idaho government officials have promised to make great strides in mandates which would dial back all of these issues, eliminating the number of narcotics available to addicts and for sale on the streets.
Additionally, the state has pledged to address treatment methods for those who are already addicted—this includes local resources for medication-assisted treatment, inpatient and outpatient treatment, and detoxification resources.
Idaho officials are working to address this by doing a thorough overview of current resources available to addicted individuals and comparing that number against the number of resources needed, and then working to fill the gap. Also, officials are beginning to address mental health on a more serious level and looking to see how mental health issues are adding to the growing number of addicted individuals to combat the issue from every standpoint possible.
Law enforcement is also doing their part by heavily investigating the transport and sales of narcotics on the street. Their efforts have gleaned excellent results so far, with a four-person drug ring uncovered and persecuted in August, and another five-person organization arrested as recently as October.
The state has also vowed to prosecute offenders on a more case by case basis so that those in need of medical or psychological treatment are able to receive it instead of being sentenced to jail or prison terms that don’t address the true problem. Those who are a threat to others will also receive sufficient sentences in line with the crime committed versus using the mandated minimum and maximum sentencing that doesn’t allow for true judgment on a case.
The final tier of the state’s multi-faceted solution is community education initiatives. This includes community and school programs to provide education on drug abuse prevention, as well as teaching harm reduction methods such as using the overdose-reversal drug Naloxone.
Additionally, the state is providing safe medication disposal boxes located at hospitals and pharmacies, providing support services for friends and families of addicted individuals and encouraging citizens to get involved in their hometowns or on a state and nationwide level.
A National Example
With the highest levels of government at odds about how to approach the opioid epidemic, the example set by Idaho is a much-needed reminder that lives matter. By treating those affected by addiction as sick people rather than criminals, we can begin to make serious changes in the crippling epidemic that is seizing the nation.
Fortunately, many states have started to adopt similar plans within their local governments, and the Federal Government has announced plans to implement legislatures to reduce the number of narcotic prescriptions being written across the entire U.S.
Many doctors have also begun to adopt new protocols for treating pain that relies less on addictive painkillers, and are recommending alternative methods for pain management, such as physical therapy, healthy diet and exercise and non-habit-forming prescription drugs first. Even jails and prisons have begun to roll out programs centered around treating addictive behaviors in order to ready addicts to rejoin society upon release rather than sending them back to their drug using lifestyles.
While we are new still to our efforts to combat the opioid epidemic, with so many across the country dedicated to change, there are high hopes for the future. If you want to get involved in efforts to create change, contact your local police department, city hall or city government to see what life-saving efforts you can join in on.