Pubdate: Tue, 15 Aug 2017
Source: Buffalo News (NY)
Copyright: 2017 The Buffalo News


President Trump's declaration of a national opioid crisis creates an
opportunity to bring greater focus and more resources to a scourge
that is killing an average of almost 150 people a day. (Getty Images)

President Trump's recent declaration recognizing the opioid crisis
acknowledges something people have been saying for years. It remains
to be seen whether this new development opens up more resources.

The opioid epidemic is ravaging a generation of mostly young people,
although older people are not immune. There are an estimated 2.6
million opioid addicts in the United States.

The President's Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid
Crisis, led by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, issued a preliminary
report offering the starkest description of the overdose death tolls
as "September 11th every three weeks." The image of those terrorist
attacks in 2001 has been forever seared into the national

The commission urged the president to declare a national emergency,
and he did. So what's next?

The report is said to have understated the lethality of the epidemic.
The commission based its estimate of fatal drug overdoses on 2015
statistics, when 52,404 people died of overdoses of all drugs,
including opioids, for an average of 142 a day. New federal data
covering the first nine months of 2016 showed the death toll rose
significantly since 2015 and could reach 60,000.

Last year, 301 people died from drug overdoses in Erie County.

Resources are already being deployed on all levels of government. Erie
County has been at the forefront here and a recent News article by Lou
Michel profiled Judge Craig D. Hannah, a recovering addict who
presides over Buffalo's opioid court. Hannah, once addicted to cocaine
and marijuana, is a shining example of how someone can overcome the
toughest odds. He shows defendants respect and makes clear that he
expects them to take responsibility by calling them "participants,"
which is exactly what they must be in their own recovery.

Opioid addiction has been associated with a doctor's prescription for
an injury, as an example. The patient becomes addicted to the
medication and, when it runs out, often turns to illegal sources. When
the money for that runs out, the now-desperate addict turns to cheaper
heroin. But street-level heroin in the United States is often laced
with illicit fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid much cheaper to
produce than heroin.

Addicts don't care. In fact, the stronger the better. Even if it kills
them. Police, firefighters and paramedics carry naloxone, which is the
brand name for Narcan. It is an anti-overdose drug that can snap an
addict back from the "brink of death," but then what happens when that
person takes his new lease on life and uses it to search out another

Not every addict starts out with a doctor's prescription. Still, New
York State has gone after those physicians who give out opioid
prescriptions like candy. Such prescriptions should be given
sparingly. Law enforcement and prosecutors also have set their sights
on drug dealers. But perhaps the biggest challenge is helping addicts
get clean. They have to want the help, and treatment options must be
funded and available.

The president's declaration should result in more than just words.
America cannot simply stand by as the overdose death toll rises to the
point where it is equated to one of the country's worst tragedies in
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