Law enforcement agencies, lawmakers develop new steps to combat the opioid crisis
Wednesday, June 26, 2019
The opioid crisis is real, and it’s growing at an alarming rate. In just the first eight months of 2018, 20,537 Americans died from synthetic opioid-related overdoses, a figure that far outpaced previous years.
The unprecedented level of casualties is a result of fentanyl intake, a drug that is 50 times more powerful than heroin. The Trump administration has made containing the opioid epidemic a priority, taking severe steps to stem the flow of deadly drugs into the U.S. from China and Mexico.
Law enforcement agencies across the country are working with local and federal authorities to step up prosecutions of traffickers as well.
Authorities around the country are taking whatever steps necessary to avert further deaths. One example is the new opioid crisis response bill signed by Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz. Now, prescription drug manufacturers and distributors in Minnesota will have to pay increased annual licensing fees to do business in the state. Under the new law, the fee is set to jump from about $200 to up to $305,000 a year.
The increased fees will raise $20 million per year, which will go towards addiction prevention and treatment and addressing the opioid epidemic in the state.
This is in line with Congress’ move to increase spending on drug treatment. Approximately 422 Minnesotans died of opioid overdose deaths in 2017 alone. Along with providing non-narcotic pain treatment plans, the revenue generated by this action will pay for law enforcement efforts, too.
Law enforcement agencies have more than a vested interest in the actions taken by political authorities since their offices are on the front lines of this national crisis.
Law enforcement officials in Cobb County, Georgia, and the District Attorney recently announced new funding and tactics for addressing the opioid epidemic in the county, which has had one of the highest overdose death rates in the state.
The new measures include a $900,000 federal grant that will provide treatment for individuals who do not qualify for the county’s accountability courts. Instead of the aggressive drug policy that mandated jail time for addicts in the past, law enforcement is now looking at treatment and rehabilitation as a means for containing the crisis.
Special funds will be allocated to a team who will be responsible for looking into all overdose deaths and related cases. The team will help to determine which cases need help and which ones include traffickers who need to be incarcerated. Resources will also be allocated for further education and awareness of types of drugs that make their way into the county.
In Connecticut, the Hartford Police Department collaborated with state officials to address an unprecedented outbreak of opioid-related deaths in the state. A recent bill passed by the legislative council seeks to regulate opioid prescriptions and require doctor oversight if they prescribe more than a 12-week dose.
Opioid addiction treatment in prisons and jails is gaining a lot of attention as well. Prisoners across the country are often denied opioid-prevention medications, which leads to post-incarceration overdose deaths.
A 2018 Pew study showed that a dismal 1% of prisons and jails in the U.S. allow access to medication-assisted treatment for inmates with opioid-use disorders. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston recently made waves by achieving a significant milestone in the ongoing battle against the opioid epidemic.
Denying a prisoner medication prescribed for opioid addiction is unfortunately quite common everywhere. This is because most people tend to think of opioid users as criminals instead of addicts who need help.
Many jails are onboard with the plan to prescribe medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction, but the cost has been a barrier. With the new bills passed; however, they will get the necessary funds to put their plans in action.
Some law enforcement agencies are more proactive than others, like the Rhode Island Department of Corrections. It has implemented a program to offer preventive medications to prisoners to minimize the risk of overdose once they are released. Other agencies, including emergency personnel, police, and fire stations, are actively advocating for treatment when appropriate instead of incarceration and establishing safe zones to dispose of substances.
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