A three-part series on opioids featuring stories from the Leader-Telegram’s Eric Lindquist and pieces from other reporters in Adams Publishing Group concludes on today’s front page.
For parents and Chippewa Valley residents, the state and local numbers are nothing short of shocking. Consider:
• Last year, the opioid epidemic killed nearly 800 people in Wisconsin and there were almost 5,000 ambulance runs due to overdoses. Eau Claire and Chippewa counties combined for 14 of the former and 81 of the latter.
• In Eau Claire, Chippewa and Dunn counties, 128 people died from opioid overdoses from 2000 through 2017.
• The number of people treated in Wisconsin opioid programs rose 70 percent from 2013 to 2017.
“Here in the Chippewa Valley ... it seems like we’re following the rest of the state where opioids are taking over,” said Toni Simonson, executive director of behavioral health for HSHS Western Wisconsin Division and Prevea Behavioral Care, in a Lindquist story.
State Attorney General Josh Kaul has labeled it “the most significant public-safety challenge we face.”
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At the national level, 399,230 U.S. residents died from opioid-related causes from 1999 through 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Annually, the crisis costs the U.S. $78.5 billion, the CDC reported.
By most accounts, a multi-pronged approach involving medicine, counseling and education is the best recipe for treatment. Naloxone, an overdose reversal medication, has and will continue to save lives.
Memes have circulated about the high cost of insulin while naloxone often is available at little or no cost. Some are forced to ration insulin because of its high cost. But this is not a causal relationship. It’s wrong that insulin can be prohibitively expensive. But it also would be wrong to not save as many lives as possible with naloxone.
On the enforcement front, just last week federal authorities charged 60 people, including 31 doctors, for their roles in the illegal prescribing and distributing of opioids and other drugs. Defendants from at least seven states were tied to around 350,000 prescriptions and 32 million pills.
We applaud such efforts, but law enforcement alone can’t solve the problem. A Public Broadcasting Service story lists preventative suggestions for parents that include:
• Have pointed discussions about the opioid epidemic.
• Get involved in all medical decisions and recommended prescriptions for your children.
• Research alternative pain therapies.
• Ask schools what education they provide regarding opioids.
There is hope. Paul Krupski, director of opioid initiatives for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, said preliminary reports suggest opiod-related deaths last year in the state may have declined for the first time in 20 years.
“We need to save lives,” he said.
Yes, we do. And we can all play a role.
— Liam Marlaire, assistant editor