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Public health officials, law enforcement urge holistic approach to stem widespread opioid crisis

by Jon Davis ~ August 2017 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Strategies to deal with the rise of opioid abuse and drug overdoses were a focus of state legislators and policy experts who took part in this year’s MLC Health & Human Services Committee meeting. “We can’t prosecute our way out of the problem; there needs to be cooperation between law enforcement and public health,” Kevin Techau, a former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Iowa, said to lawmakers at the July meeting.
Now in private practice, Techau said this holistic approach to fighting the crisis must involve federal, state and local governments. On the law enforcement side, for example, he noted the success of partnerships between the Cedar Rapids Police Department and the federal High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area and Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces. Together, they used local crime statistics to show where illegal drugs such as heroin were coming in to Cedar Rapids; that, in turn, led to more successful prosecutions by the U.S. attorney’s office.
On the public health side, Dr. Carri Casteel provided some evidence-based legislative remedies. One is to mandate that prescribers register with and use state-run databases that monitor prescription drug use by individuals. (These prescription drug programs are in place in every Midwestern state, but not every state mandates that prescribers use them.) Another policy strategy is to expand naloxone access to non-medical personnel who have been trained to recognize an overdose and administer the live-saving medication.
Casteel suggested, too, that lawmakers look for ways to bolster addiction treatment capacity while also better educating prescribers and pharmacists. Part of the long-term solution to the problem, she said, is changing the culture around prescribing medicine, starting in medical schools.
In 2015, 33,000 people died in the United States from opioid overdoses; nearly half of those cases involved a prescription opioid. The rate of opiate overdose deaths started skyrocketing at the beginning of this decade, fueled mainly by a sharp rise in deaths from heroin (starting in 2010) and synthetic opiates such as fentanyl or tramadol (starting in 2013).


Brief written by Jon Davis,CSG Midwest staff liaison for the Midwestern Legislative Conference Health & Human Services Committee.