Op-ed: President Trump's heroin emergency was a missed opportunity

Posted at 6:30 AM, Nov 16, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-16 06:30:48-05

Tom Synan is police chief of Newtown, Ohio, co-chair of the Hamilton County Heroin Coalition and a member of the Heroin Advisory Group.

This column is part of the project, Heroin: How Do We Respond?

I remember one day when I was a kid, all the kids from the neighborhood came over to my house to play a game of football. I checked with my parents to see if we could play in the backyard. They said yes. Place to do it -- check.

We had enough kids to make two teams-- check. We made up the two teams, and now we had all the right people -- check.

Tom Synan

All we needed now was the one tool that would make it all work -- the football. I ran to my garage, rummaged through all the seasonal sport accessories and picked up the football, only to find out it had no air. It was deflated, and we didn't have an air pump. Left unsure what to do we did the only thing we could do, roll up a bunch of socks and make do with a sock football.

The president's announcement on what was going to be done to combat the opiate epidemic has left me much like that football -- deflated.

Yes, it is a good thing that it was declared a public health emergency. Maybe that will spur change in the right direction. This is the right time, the right moment to shift how we view and treat addiction to a mental health and medical health issue, taking it out of the criminal justice system.

Stop treating addiction as a crime so law enforcement can have the time and resources to focus on those distributing this poison and take them off the streets.

At the same time, we can be he link to those addicted, getting them on the path to long-term care, not just treated for the chronic mental and medical condition of addiction. It should be done with support resources so they can recover, reintegrate into society, get jobs paying taxes and reimbursing, paying forward with the pride of overcoming challenges.

It was a missed opportunity. What was missed most was the football, the tool to make it all work. In this case, that's funding.

Currently, some seem to believe that if we put money into this epidemic it will be a waste. So just wait for the next drug, this will burn itself out, or it doesn't impact me. That's misguided and damaging reasoning, leaving us spinning in decades of never-ending cycles of addiction.

We are spending much more on the front end financially, with zero return. If we invested now in infrastructure and access that could be enhanced it would allow us to tackle this issue for what it is -- an emergency with more people overdosing and dying than at any time in the history of our country.

We could also fund long-term solutions to prevent future addiction, reduce the supply and the harm from drug abuse. We could get return on our investment while saving lives and improving communities.

This region has all the right people, the right places and the right connections. We just need the one thing that makes it all successful: funding, our football.

As I was that day as a kid, I am deflated knowing that tomorrow when all those who fight, struggle and grieve every day trying to save lives, reduce the impact this crisis has on our families, kids, communities and future generations, will once again have to make do with what we have.

We've been given a Band-Aid for an injury that needs a tourniquet.

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