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Idaho governor creates panel to help fight opioid abuse

June 13, 2019

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho Gov. Brad Little on Thursday took another step in the battle against opioid abuse by forming a panel that will analyze where and how money should be spent to fight the problem.

Little, a Republican, signed an executive order creating the Opioid and Substance Use Disorder Advisory Group that will look at everything from prevention to treatment to recovery.

“From a troubled child that might be susceptible to drug abuse to the last inmate coming out of the door of the prison, tell me all the in-ramps and off-ramps and where we deploy money into all of them to most effectively increase quality of life,” Little said.

The group will have 21 members and be comprised of state government officials, elected leaders, law enforcement officials, judiciary members and medical workers.

Melinda Smyser, administrator of the Governor’s Office of Drug Policy, will chair the group.

Smyser said that, according to county coroner reports, every 35 hours in Idaho, someone dies from a drug overdose. Every 70 hours, someone dies from an opioid overdose, she said.

The office has a five-year strategic plan for dealing with opioid abuse, and part of that involves prevention, Smyser said. People age 18 to 25 are a key part of those efforts, she said.

“We can so more about education and prevention,” Smyser said.

Idaho is expected to get millions of dollars in federal grant money to fight opioid abuse as well as a potential payout from legal action the state is taking against Connecticut-based Purdue Pharma, which makes OxyContin.

Medicaid expansion starts in Idaho in January, and Little said that should help with the state’s opioid problem as well by bringing in money to help those with opioid additions.

“Altogether these investments will turn the tide on the opioid crisis,” he said.

Some specific items Little said he wants considered by the panel include sending first-time, non-violent drug offenders to a local crisis center for help rather than to jail.

He also wants advice on limiting prescriptions and better tracking through electronic records of the sale of opioids.

Little said he’s asked the Idaho Department of Correction and the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare to research a potential pilot program using medicated-assisted therapy programs.

The panel is an advisory group only. Little said he expects recommendations from the panel in time to prepare his budget for the 2020 legislative session.

On a related front, Little earlier this year signed into law legislation aimed at reducing the number of opioid deaths in the state by making naloxone overdose reversal medication more available. The new law approved unanimously by the Legislature alters wording in an existing law to make it clear that emergency responders, family members and others can get and administer the medication.

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