Treat opioid crisis as a national emergency

Imagine if there were so many killings by terrorists in this country that every three weeks they added up to the number of people killed in the 9/11 attacks?

Or imagine a jetliner, filled with passengers, crashing and killing all its occupants every three days?

Something like that is happening, as noted by the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, which provided these examples.

An average of 147 overdose deaths related to various opioid drugs occurs every day in the United States, or about 4,400 each month, 54,000 annually. And the numbers are increasing, now killing more people than gun homicides and auto crashes combined.

In a recent report, the commission, chaired by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, urged President Trump to declare a national emergency.

It is. He should.

Connecticut knows this all too well. According to the Office of the Chief State Medical Examiner, the state could well surpass 1,000 overdose deaths in 2017. From January to June, the office recorded 539 overdose deaths. More than 1,000 deaths would be a record breaker, a bleak one. In 2016, 917 people died of accidental overdoses in Connecticut.

It’s a complicated matter as to why so many turn to heroin, despite knowing it will lead to addiction and, quite likely, a terrible end with relationships destroyed in the process. Some become addicted to prescribed painkillers, then move to cheaper and more street-available heroin. Others seek to escape the emotional pain or depression in their lives. There is speculation our drug-saturated culture shares the blame, with commercials pushing drugs to solve our maladies appearing constantly on TV.

A majority of overdose deaths now involve heroin laced with the synthetic opioid fentanyl, far more powerful and deadly.

On Thursday, on what was International Overdose Awareness Day, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed a new state law, “An Act Preventing Prescription Opioid Diversion and Abuse.”

It includes meaningful reforms. An electronic prescription requirement should reduce the fraudulent buying of painkillers and the practice of using multiple doctors to get multiple prescriptions filled.

The law includes procedures that will encourage doctors to explore alternatives to painkillers, particularly when dealing with patients with a history of addiction.

It toughens the rules requiring insurers to provide coverage for inpatient detoxification services.

The law also requires practitioners to disclose the risks associated with opioid drug use and allows nurses employed in home health care to destroy drugs no longer needed for treatment.

Yet given the national breadth of the crisis, a federal response is necessary, including elimination of the Medicaid exclusion that keeps federal funds from being spent on treatment for substance abuse and providing the resources to better train doctors on treating chronic pain as safely as possible.

As the commission explained in its request to President Trump:

“After September 11, our President and our nation banded together to use every tool at our disposal to prevent any further American deaths. Your (emergency) declaration would empower your cabinet to take bold steps and would force Congress to focus on funding and empowering the Executive Branch even further to deal with this loss of life.”

Today Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy will hold a roundtable discussion in New London with doctors and advocates to discuss, along with general health issues, efforts to curb the opioid epidemic. Murphy will host the roundtable in the Baker Auditorium at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital beginning at noon.

The members of Connecticut’s delegation have been outspoken in pushing for greater federal support to fund treatment programs and expand the availability of life-saving naloxone. The public needs to back them in demanding the Trump administration treat this issue as the national emergency it has surely become.

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.

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