Editorial: Here's how to respond to the heroin and opioid emergency

Heroin Advisory Board's recommendations
Posted at 10:00 AM, Sep 26, 2017
and last updated 2017-09-26 10:00:34-04

This editorial, an open letter to President Trump, is part of the project Heroin: How Do We Respond?

Dear Mr. President,

More than a month ago, you called the heroin and opiate crisis "an emergency."

That was a welcome recognition in this part of the country, where our families and communities are struggling with steadily increasing numbers of overdoses and deaths. 

But since then, you’ve announced no follow-up action. No executive orders, no additional funding, no resources, no plans.

We understand you made the declaration at an impromptu gathering of the media at your New Jersey golf club. Nevertheless, you stated at the time, "The opioid crisis is an emergency, and I'm saying officially right now: It is an emergency."

So, we must ask -- with all due respect -- what are you waiting for?

People are dying every day. In August alone in this county, emergency services responded to 360 drug overdoses. That was just one month in Cincinnati.   

Your Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis is meeting next on Wednesday, Sept. 27, and is preparing its final report.

We’d like to suggest actions that you and your administration can take. Our WCPO Heroin Advisory Board has been meeting for nearly two years and working on possible solutions to the crisis. The group comprises nearly 50 people directly affected by and involved in the epidemic: doctors, treatment professionals, prevention experts, social workers, recovering addicts and parents.

Here are some of its recommendations:

  • Declare this a public health emergency. Make it about health care, not law enforcement. People are dying from the terrible disease of addiction, but it is curable. Put our public health resources to work on it.
  • Dedicate much more funding to detox and treatment centers. Addiction treatment here and around the country is woefully inadequate to address an epidemic like this. There’s an urgent need for more.
  • Create a program to encourage more doctors to enter the field of addiction medicine or make it part of their practices. We can have all the facilities in the world, but they need to be staffed with public health professionals who understand the complex disease of addiction.
  • Expand access to suboxone and other medically assisted treatment. Suboxone works, but there are still not enough doctors certified to prescribe it.
  • Push for tougher penalties for traffickers and dealers. They bear responsibility for the enormous death toll.
  • Enforce the health insurance law that requires coverage for drug treatment and mental health services to be made for available. People should not die because they can’t afford treatment.
  • Promote and preserve the expansion of Medicaid. Many were able to afford treatment after they became Medicaid eligible. That should be maintained.  
  • Push Congress to pass the STOP Act, which would require the U.S. Postal Service to track packages it delivers. It is believed some of the deadly fentanyl illegally sold here has arrived via packages delivered by the Postal Service.

Your own commission has made many recommendations in its interim report. A great first step would be to simply carry out your commission's recommendations.

Finally, listen to the people in this community and elsewhere affected by this crisis. They have the answers.