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Is Harsher Punishment Wrong Approach to Opioid Crisis?

In 2015, more than one in three drug overdose deaths in Idaho was related to prescription drugs, according to the CDC. (Nosheep/Pixabay)
In 2015, more than one in three drug overdose deaths in Idaho was related to prescription drugs, according to the CDC. (Nosheep/Pixabay)
August 11, 2017

BOISE, Idaho – President Donald Trump has declared the opioid crisis a national emergency and is vowing to take a law-and-order approach to combating it. 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, the vice president for policy and advocacy at the National Council on Behavioral Health, says prevention and treatment are the bigger keys to success. She notes 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," she explains.

She says the illicit use of street drugs such as heroin may follow on the heels of an addiction to pain medication, but stresses that drug enforcement is only part of a much more complex picture. In 2015, 36 percent of drug overdose deaths in Idaho were related to prescription drugs, one of the highest rates in the nation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Farley David believes Health and Human Services Director Tom Price is saying the right things about the nature and causes of the opioid crisis, but she says action needs to happen soon.

She points to policy changes in Medicaid that could provide relief to thousands. The problem with Medicaid, she says, is simple.

"It doesn't permit payment for most residential substance-use treatment, due to an outdated payment prohibition built into the program," she says.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

She argues that prevention, treatment and recovery should be the three primary focus areas to curb the opioid epidemic.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ID