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Fighting drug abuse should be bipartisan

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS) Published: May 9, 2017 4:00 AM

Democrats and Republicans find very little to agree on these days in a toxic and bitterly partisan Congress. But a number of recent studies gives them every reason to work together on the nation's opioid abuse epidemic.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had previously estimated that 91 Americans a day die from opioid abuse and another 30 are treated in emergency rooms.

But a CDC researcher this spring examined death records in Minnesota and found a large number of deaths that were likely caused by opioids were not reported as opioid-related. Instead, in many of the cases, the deaths were reported as pneumonia or another secondary condition.

In other words, the more than 33,000 people who reportedly died from opioids and heroin in 2015 may not even be close to the true number.

Round the number up to 50,000 (the numbers for 2016 will be even higher) and multiply it by five, 10, or 20 to even come close to the number of family members and friends across the nation who are affected by this scourge.

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The CDC said opioid overdoses and dependence cost the public sector $23 billion a year (a third of that attributable to crime) and the private sector more than $55 billion because of lost productivity and health care costs. More than 80,000 people are incarcerated because of opioid-related crimes.

But the truly interesting study that should cause lawmakers to take notice and vow to work together is one completed by researchers at Emory University.

They found that a 10 percent increase in the treatment rate resulted in a 3 percent decrease in larceny theft and a 4 percent to 9 percent decrease in aggravated assaults. Even simpler, it was discovered that for every $1 spent on treatment, $3 was saved on criminal losses.

So, while law enforcement continues to need increased funding to help track down suppliers, recent research makes a compelling case that the majority of funding should go toward treatment to keep addicts out of the criminal justice system in the first place.

Nationally, President Donald Trump has formed an opioid abuse task force headed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. The president's budget calls for an increase of $500 million over 2016 spending levels to address the epidemic.

That is, however, just a proposal. The numbers can go up or down, depending on what state and national lawmakers can agree upon.

But one thing is clear: There is no reason to disagree. This epidemic affects Democrats and Republicans, and this battle provides an opportunity to finally work together on a public health challenge the nation can't afford to lose.

-- Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


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