Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Editorial: Feds must take real action on opioid crisis

Feb. 6, 2018 at 9:55 p.m.

The good news: Gregg County has not seen an increase in drug overdose deaths over the past 10 years. The county's rate of 8.8 deaths per 100,000 people is lower than is being suffered in many states and cities.

In West Virginia — "almost heaven" in song — the overdose death rate in 2015 was nearly 40 per 100,000 people. That doesn't sound like paradise to us.

Most of these deaths are caused by opioids including OxyContin, Percocet, oxycodone, Vicodin and hydrocodone, common painkillers often prescribed by doctors.

Heroin also is a opioid. Most of the damage is being done by a synthetic drug, fentanyl.

To date, the deaths have been someone else's problem, particularly the Northeastern states'.

The bad news: Gregg County has all the ingredients to indicate it could well be on the cusp of a sharp increase in the coming few years.

"Terrifying" was the way one former drug treatment official described the outlook for our county in a story that appeared in Sunday's editions of the News-Journal.

She had good reason for saying that. A 2016 survey by the Health and Human Services Committee showed East Texas students had the highest rate of opioid use in the state. To this point, we have not seen as many deaths primarily, because fentanyl use here is low.

As it increases — and experts say that is a certainty — deaths will rise, particularly because so many young people already have tried opioids.

For the most part, these are not drugs that are being smuggled into the country. As Sunday's stories made clear, the opioids teenagers first take are those that have either been prescribed to them, to a relative or friends. The abuse begins with a pill here and there and eventually rises until it is out of control.

Few doctors are improperly prescribing opioids, but it does not take many to create a huge problem. Then, too, addicts find ways of getting pills they should not have from doctors, faking pains that do not really exist.

For others, addiction stems from prescribed usage. In any case, the chances for abuse are real.

To this point, officials in Washington have talked a great deal but done very little. The right words have been said and that has been the extent of the effort. President Donald Trump certified opioids as a national emergency but then did not free funds to be funneled into creating ways to combat the problem.

This is not the kind of crisis that can be fought without the federal government stepping in to put the clamps on those who manufacture and distribute opioids. Yes, some of this might be coming over our borders, but the vast majority is from within.

It is time for our elected representatives to act. We realize action on real issues is not the norm in Washington these days, but this should be about as bipartisan an issue as there is.

To our lawmakers, then, we say: Do something — and now.



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