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Mental Health Experts: Punishment Not Way to Stop Overdoses

Florida's governor declared an opioid emergency in the state this year. (V. Carter)
Florida's governor declared an opioid emergency in the state this year. (V. Carter)
August 10, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- President Donald Trump is vowing to take a law-and-order approach to combating the nation's worsening opioid epidemic. But mental health experts say that strategy ignores key truths about the problem.

In comments this week, the President told reporters, "Strong law enforcement is absolutely vital to having a drug-free society.”

Rebecca Farley David, vice president for policy and advocacy at the National Council on Behavioral Health, said prevention and treatment are the bigger keys to success. She noted that for many people, addiction starts at home.

"So often it happens because of legally prescribed pain medications, either that were legally prescribed for that individual or someone else in their family, and they had access to the pills,” Farley David said.

She said illicit use of street drugs like heroin may follow on the heels of an addiction to pain medication, but she stressed that drug enforcement is only part of a much more complex picture.

Earlier this year, Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency and gave the green light for first responders to start distributing the anti-overdose treatment Naloxone.

Farley David said she believes Health and Human Services Director Tom Price is saying the right things about the nature and causes of the opioid crisis, but she said action needs to be taken soon. She pointed to policy changes in Medicaid that could provide relief to thousands.

The problem with Medicaid, she said, is simple.

"It doesn't permit payment for most residential substance-use treatment, due to an outdated payment prohibition built into the program,” Farley David said. "That needs to change."

She argued that prevention, treatment and recovery should be the three primary focus areas to curb the opioid epidemic. In 2015, nearly 3,900 Floridians died from opioid overdoses, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Veronica Carter, Public News Service - FL