Key to overcoming opioid crisis is collaboration on the state level
It’s no secret our nation faces a grave problem that’s gripping the country from coast to coast — and worsening each year. Every day, 91 Americans die from an opioid overdose. Without immediate and system-wide action, 500,000 Americans could die from opioids in the next decade — more than the total number of American soldiers killed in World War II.
The impact this crisis is having on our own communities is fatally serious. From bone-chilling images to tragic consequences, we are reminded daily of how critical the situation has become.
Three weeks ago, President Trump officially declared the opioid crisis a national emergency. But even before the Trump administration identified addiction as our country’s most urgent public health crisis, individual states were facing this epidemic on their own.
So far, six states have declared opioid addiction a public health emergency, with Massachusetts being the first to do so in 2014. Former Gov. Deval Patrick (D) created a special task force to develop actionable recommendations, including creating a new prescription monitoring program and opening 1,100 more treatment beds.
Arizona announced its own crisis in June, and immediately began an aggressive campaign to gather more overdose data in real time. At the same time, Alaska expanded the use of Naloxone, implementing mandatory training for police officers and making the life-saving treatment widely accessible to emergency medics, state troopers and non-profit responders. Gov. Larry Hogan (R) declared a state of emergency in Maryland and established an operational command center to coordinate resources and activities across state and local agencies.
Advocacy and non-profit organizations have long worked to create awareness of this epidemic, but they also play an essential role in informing policy and taking action at the ground level.
The Addiction Policy Forum recently released its four-year, eight-point plan to curb the addiction crisis, and is working with community organizations to distribute prescription drug disposal kits and educational materials in hard-hit states like Ohio.
Higher education and university research have a crucial role to play, as well. West Virginia University’s lab on the genetics of substance use disorders is one example. And, last month, Indiana University launched a $50 million initiative to tackle addiction by partnering with Gov. Eric Holcomb (R-Ind.), and the state’s leading healthcare systems to train addiction specialists and conduct essential research into the science behind substance use disorders.
Despite these efforts, the challenge we face is still as daunting as ever. The key to overcoming it is collaboration. No single state or organization can alone turn the tide on opioid use.
Combating the opioid crisis requires seamless channels for sharing information at every level of government, so states can implement data-driven solutions. We need policymakers like Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) who champion comprehensive, state-based programs that systemically address addiction. We also need cross-industry partners to mobilize their resources and support ongoing initiatives that are making an impact in the communities they serve.
Declaring a crisis for what it is can only be the first step in the upward battle against addiction. But we do know that when communities, grassroots teams and major state-based institutions work together, progress can be made.
We’ve seen Massachusetts efforts fuel a 10 percent drop in opioid deaths this year, Vermont’s “hub and spoke” approach reduce waiting times for patients seeking treatment, and Connecticut and New Hampshire’s Aware Recovery Care at-home treatment achieve recovery rates six times higher than the national average.
These early indicators of success seem small and are not without caveats, but they do show how collaborative responses can produce meaningful results. Our task now is to follow the lead of these initiatives and ensure all states are committed to joining the cause.
Robin Newhouse is dean and distinguished professor of the Indiana University School of Nursing. Mark O’Brien is VP of State and Local Affairs at Addiction Policy Forum.