Idaho officials are focusing their attention on the state’s growing opioids and substance abuse problems.
The Opioid and Substance Use Disorder Advisory Group met for the first time Thursday, with Gov. Brad Little (R) calling it a “very comprehensive and complex problem.”
“I’ve looked, observed, talked about, observed from a distance, and sometimes, I’ve observed this issue from way too close,” Little said.
He says Idaho has significantly reduced the amount of opioid prescriptions written for patients, though clamping down too hard could have unintended consequences.
Dr. Christine Hahn, the medical director for the Division of Public Health agreed.
“One of the concerns is that if we have patients taking opioids and we stop their prescriptions, they may turn to heroin or even fentanyl. Overdoses may increase and that seems to be borne out at the national level,” Hahn said.
248 people died from drug overdoses last year in Idaho, with more than half of them coming from opioids.
31 of the deaths weren’t linked to any specific drug, which Hahn said could be due to a coroner’s inability to run a toxicology report or pay an outside lab to process such a case.
Overdose deaths from opioids (and all drugs) are most heavily concentrated in southeast Idaho, according to the state.
Hahn says another nuance to solving the problem is recognizing that opioids aren't the only drug to focus on. She says mental health problems and a wide variety of drug abuse are interconnected.
“I think one thing in Idaho that we’re very aware of is that we have a growing methamphetamine use problem and we need to tackle these all together. We can’t look at opioids alone,” she said.
Members of the advisory group from the healthcare sector, corrections and the judicial branch will meet several times over the next 18 months to drive down these rates.
The group will hand over its first batch of recommendations by the end of the year.
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