Editorial roundup: Leaders can’t lose sight of the opioid epidemic
It is understandable that you haven’t heard as much about opioid addictions and deaths recently. The coronavirus pandemic, the economy and political campaigning tend to drown out most other topics.
But no one should confuse a lack of discussion about opioids as a sign the devastation of the drug has lessened. It has gotten worse.
The Associated Press reports that after a one-year drop in 2018, U.S. opioid overdose deaths increased again in 2019, topping 50,000 for the first time, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While national data isn’t available for most of 2020, the AP surveyed individual states that are reporting overdoses and found more drug-related deaths amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Health officials say it’s likely that the emergence of coronavirus and subsequent disruptions in health care and social safety nets, along with more economic stress, is fueling an increase in overdose deaths.
And the opioid epidemic is further complicated as more people are using methamphetamine in combination with opioids.
The drug, particularly the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl, has killed nearly a half million Americans in the past two decades.
President Trump should be applauded for increasing opioid funding, but states lack the number of medical professionals needed to utilize all the money and too many funding programs are short term.
The administration has focused most of its attention on law enforcement. While trying to slow the flow of fentanyl from Mexico is necessary, emphasizing punishment of those who use the drugs runs counter to the goal of reducing the stigma of substance abuse and focusing attention on the fact addiction is a disease, rather than a crime.
Former Vice President Joe Biden’s approach includes expanding insurance coverage for drug addiction, including requiring insurers to cover rehabilitation services and mental health treatment. And he supports building on Obamacare, not dismantling it, to give more insurance protection to Americans, particularly lower-income people.
The pandemic and the election will both come to an end, but the suffering opioids causes to so many families will continue and even grow if a focus isn’t put on removing the stigma of drug abuse, ensuring access to health care services and adequately funding those services long term.
— Mankato Free Press, Oct. 27
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