In response to his drug commission’s recommendation to declare the opioid overdose epidemic a national emergency, Trump demurred. Instead of taking the action his commission suggested, he spoke of ramping up law enforcement, in particular working to keep drugs from coming into the country. Trump blustered in favor what is already known to be a failed war on drugs policy, with no word at all about how to help the millions of Americans addicted to opioids right now.
The facts are startling. Every day an average of 142 Americans die from accidental overdose. In states across the nation, from Oregon to Ohio to Florida, millions of children are in foster care because their parents are drug addicted and cannot care for them. In some states, as many as half the children in foster care are there because of parental substance abuse. Many others outside the foster care system live with family members who are not their parents. Whether through death or breaking up families, opioid addiction is tearing at the foundation of our homes.
A wall – to keep drugs or people out – doesn’t address the fundamental problem that we face. Opioid addiction wasn’t born out of an influx of drugs into the country. It was born out of an internal problem of overprescribing drugs that are unsafe for long-term use. Law enforcement aimed at international drug cartels does nothing to address this.
Help isn’t coming from the federal level. With that in mind, what then can we do, right now in our communities, to address the opioid overdose crisis?
The truth is that once you break up the family, the children are devastated and the addict loses motivation to recover. To keep families together, we have to focus on recovery.
First, stop the dying. All first responders and homes in which anyone uses opioids for more than a week need to have the opioid reversal drug, naloxone, on hand. Human decency demands that we save whomever we can. We also need to be able to offer quality addiction treatment of sufficient duration to allow people to recover. Now, there is a shortage of treatment beds available and those who can get treatment often are not allowed to stay more than a month before their insurance sends them home. Failing to invest in addiction treatment is failing to invest in families.
Second, address the crisis in foster care. There is no way around it. Children are victims of substance abuse and our foster care system is broken. Effort needs to be made to address system failures while more, good quality homes are opened up to children in need. Engaging clergy and faith-based organizations is the best place to start, to encourage loving families to make room for children with nowhere to go.
Third, advocate for quality state-run health exchanges that provide substance abuse treatment. While Trump and members of the GOP are hell-bent on undermining the Affordable Care Act, states must pick up the slack. This means being proactive and looking into ways to provide quality healthcare on a state-by-state basis.
Community based action that advocates for state-level changes is the only way forward. The federal government is stymied. We know what to do. Now, we have to roll up our sleeves and do it.