Leaders get briefings on security, why not on drug epidemic?

Published 7:14 am Sunday, January 15, 2017

By KATHY MILES

Boyle County ASAP

We’ve heard a lot about security briefings in the news lately. Our country’s leaders must have timely and accurate information about the immediate threats to our nation’s safety and security. They also need to know about risks which may be currently building toward a future threat. Decision makers must have the best intelligence information available to develop plans to address these present and potential threats. The danger of terrorism around the world and inside our borders is just one of the critical reasons for frequent and accurate security briefings.

At the same time as the discussions about security briefings, recent news stories have also carried the latest statistics regarding our country’s drug crisis. U.S. overdose deaths from all drugs in 2015 rose to an all-time high of over 50,000. Deaths from prescription and illicit opioids accounted for 33,091 deaths, with a dramatic single-year increase of 5,000 deaths from opioid overdoses. Alcohol misuse accounts for at least 88,000 deaths of Americans annually. The Centers for Disease Control are now reporting an unpredicted increase in the death rates of adult males in the past several months, primarily due to what some have called, “the diseases of despair” — drug misuse, alcohol misuse and suicide.  

Surely these statistics warrant more than sensational headlines. The numbers speak to fatality rates now exceeding the numbers of U.S. citizens who die in vehicular accidents. When compared to the number of Americans who die from terrorist attacks, the deaths and costs of substance misuse and mental health problems are at least as serious.

Immediate, thoughtful and continuing attention by our state and national leaders is needed.

Indeed, all of us should be paying attention. And, perhaps, we should be asking for “security briefings” for our leaders regarding this critical public health problem gripping our nation. Threats to our safety and security can come from within, as well as from outside our borders.  

We might propose that those security briefings for our leaders be regular and consistent, based on current research like that included in the Surgeon General’s 2016 report, “Facing Addiction in America”.  The briefings certainly might not be daily, but should be more often than occasional updates.  Given the scope of the current crisis, a weekly focused meeting would not be unreasonable.

The briefings could include progress being made through harm reduction programs, such as syringe exchanges, and initiatives that are increasing the availability of life-saving Naloxone for opiate overdoses.  Information regularly presented to leaders should address the availability of treatment to all in need, and the availability of reimbursement for those treatment options. Underserved populations and vulnerable geographical areas of our state and the country should be given attention.

Leaders would want to hear about the efforts already begun to help physicians and other prescribers alter their prescribing patterns and achieve better patient outcomes.  They would want to ask for information about successful law enforcement initiatives that are preventing underage drinking and apprehending major drug dealers.  

Leaders can ask about more than the numbers of dollars devoted to treatment, enforcement and prevention. They can request that programs fit the needs of individual communities, and that communities be involved in the solutions instead of having solutions applied to them from the outside.  They can ask to see that risk factors for addiction are being eliminated and minimized, and how protective factors (which decrease the likelihood of substance misuse) are being improved. As well as attending to research, leaders can listen to the stories of individuals and families hurt by addiction, and to the hopeful stories of recovery and lives being restored.

Security briefings, then, on America’s drug crisis would ideally not only address current threats and present issues which must be given attention, but the long-term changes needed to prevent problems in the next generation.

Sounds a little like the terrorism security briefings? Absolutely.

Leaders should be knowledgeable, prepared, and responsive to the present threats, but continue to understand and address the deep issues which contribute to the development of the threats over time.

Surgeon General Murthy’s report states that Americans have a “moral obligation,” as well as an “economic imperative” to change how we address substance misuse. Perhaps we need to look at the morality of how we raise our children, how we treat our brothers and sisters in our community, how we spend our time and money, how we use our natural resources and to what and whom we turn with our pain and stress.

A regular and accurate “security briefing” on the drug crisis in America and all that goes with it might just be good for all of us, not just our leaders. We might look in the mirror of our values and actions, reorder our priorities, and make healthy changes. We can all do a better job of being part of the solution, rather than being part of the problem. And, in doing so, we create much needed hope for a safer and more secure future for our country.

Kathy Miles is the facilitator for the Boyle County Agency for Substance Abuse Policy.