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Expert: Law and Order Approach to Opioid Crisis Ignores Key Truths

Rates of prescription drug deaths in Iowa since 1999 have quadrupled, according to the Injury Prevention Research Center at the University of Iowa. (US Dept. Health & Human Services)
Rates of prescription drug deaths in Iowa since 1999 have quadrupled, according to the Injury Prevention Research Center at the University of Iowa. (US Dept. Health & Human Services)
August 10, 2017

DES MOINES, Iowa – 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 for 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.

Farley David says 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.

The University of Iowa's Injury Prevention Research Center reports opioid overdoses and deaths are beginning to decrease in the state, while heroin overdoses and overdose deaths are on the rise.

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"It doesn't permit payment for most residential substance-use treatment, due to an outdated payment prohibition built into the program," she points out.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

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

Ten years ago, there were 59 opioid overdose deaths in Iowa. In 2016, there were 159.

Kevin Patrick Allen, Public News Service - IA