Pubdate: Sun, 03 Apr 2016
Source: Herald, The (Everett, WA)
Copyright: 2016 The Daily Herald Co.
Author: Strom Peterson
Note: Rep. Strom Peterson, D-Edmonds, represents the 21st District in 
the state House of Representatives.

Opioid Addiction


President Obama did something remarkable this week. For the first 
time, a president talked about drug addiction in America without 
talking about prosecution, mandatory minimums or a war on drugs.

For the first time, a president talked about a new approach to 
addiction - an approach rooted in being smart on treatment instead of 
just tough on crime. His plan would invest $1.1 billion to provide 
treatment and fight the national opioid epidemic, which he said is 
affecting everybody.

And he's right. When it comes to addiction, opioids are the great 
equalizer. Addiction to prescription painkillers ensnares young and 
old, rich and poor, white people and people of color. From the 
17-year-old kid who drinks Robitussin A-C before he goes to school to 
the 45-year-old soccer mom who never quit taking OxyContin after her 
surgery - anyone can become addicted to opioids.

And the most vulnerable - and typically the youngest - often end up 
addicted to heroin because it's cheaper and easier to come by. Heroin 
is what claimed the life of my cousin.

Like so many in our communities, Aaron was a good student, an 
excellent athlete, and loved by his family and friends. But he 
started experimenting with drugs in high school and soon found 
himself in the spiral of opioid addiction. Despite attempts at rehab 
and a family that supported him, Aaron was just 20-years-old when his 
addiction finally took the ultimate toll.

But this is more than personal to me. The opioid epidemic is a public 
health crisis that we all need to pay attention to, because chances 
are opioid addiction will touch most of our lives. According to data 
from the Department of Health, more than 6.2 million opioid 
prescriptions were filled in Washington in 2014 for about a quarter 
of our state's residents. That means 1 in 4 Washingtonians had an 
opioid prescription.

In the year prior, Snohomish County accounted for a fifth of the 
state's overdose deaths, though we only account for about a tenth of 
the state's population.

Numbers like this call for an all-hands-on-deck approach to battling 
opioid addiction in our communities, and, as the president called 
for, an approach that involves better treatment, compassion and a 
smarter approach to reducing addiction.

That's why last year I worked with one of my Democratic colleagues on 
a bill to make it easier for firefighters, police and other first 
responders to get access to Narcan, a life-saving drug that can 
literally reverse a heroin or opioid overdose. Long-term treatment is 
the only solution for people addicted to opioids - but they can't get 
that treatment if they die from an overdose.

And this year, I brought Democrats and Republicans together to pass 
my bill that will make it easier for doctors to use an existing 
system that tracks patients, how many opioid prescriptions they get 
and where they get them. This will help prescribers know if a new 
patient is a 'pillshopper,' someone who gets opioids from a doctor 
until the doctor stops writing prescriptions, then finds a new doctor 
to continue getting access to drugs.

But one policy alone is not enough to reduce opioid addiction in our 
communities. Another bill I sponsored this session never got to the 
governor. It would have made insurance companies cover prescriptions 
for "tamper resistant" medications - new drug technology that's been 
used to manufacture opioids that can't be broken down to snort or 
inject. These are new drugs that are already on the market, but most 
insurance companies won't cover them.

Between now and next session, I'm working with Snohomish County 
Sheriff Ty Trenary and our local public health officials to come up 
with more solutions around access to medically appropriate treatment 
and supporting first responders and others on the front lines of this crisis.

We need a full toolbox of policies and well-funded services to 
conquer the opioid and heroin epidemic that's rampant in our 
communities. But one of the most important things you can do to help, 
right now, is to change how you see addictions, and addicts.

When we think of someone who's addicted, too often we think of a 
stereotype. But it can happen to anyone, anywhere.

It happens in our suburbs. It happens in our schools. It happens on a 
kitchen counter in a quiet home in Mukilteo, and in Edmonds in the 
apartment below yours.

And that's why we need to do something new, and do something soon.

Thirty years of backward anti-drug policies that focused on 
punishment more than prevention and treatment got us here. But it 
shouldn't take years to get us out.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom