ADDRESSING THE OPIOID CRISIS

The opioid crisis, and substance abuse more generally, is a public health crisis, and a huge national problem that needs a multi-level response.

Along with being a public health and moral issue, this is a workforce issue. Individuals suffering from substance abuse issues could be working to support their families and communities instead. According to the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, the opioid crisis is the driving force behind job vacancies reaching an alltime high in Kentucky, hurting the state’s ability to attract new businesses.

More than 1,200 Kentuckians died of drug overdoses in 2015 in the escalating scourge of heroin and prescription opioid abuse. The following year, overdose deaths jumped to 1,404, up 39% in just three years.

In response, Kentucky received $109 million in federal funds for substance abuse treatment programs through the state’s expanded Medicaid program. In addition to the Medicaid expansion, under Governor Beshear, Kentucky introduced reforms in 2012 that have led to reduced painkiller prescriptions and more systematic prescription monitoring.

Substance abuse is also a major driver of chronic homelessness; Recovery Kentucky, a program that stemmed from former Governor Beshear’s Recovery Task Force, provides housing and addiction support services for approximately 2,000 people with substance abuse issues from 17 centers, saving the state’s taxpayers millions of dollars in emergency room bills and jail costs.

We need to expand successful programs like these. The federal government ought to be supporting them as part of a comprehensive declaration of emergency to fight the opioid epidemic. Instead, we’re still waiting for more than lip-service out of Washington.

In addition, we need to expand funding for the agencies working to improve the lives of Kentuckians and Americans. This includes expanding funding for Health and Human Services, which has made the opioid crisis a top clinical priority and is working to help individuals achieve long-term addiction recovery by improving access to prevention, treatment, and recovery support services nationwide.

We must also do more to guarantee that Kentuckians are benefiting from these efforts, and receiving the funding and support Kentucky needs to ensure that vital services are provided for every community, every family, and every individual who needs them. We can do this by supporting the Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, which would not only provide for up to 12 weeks of paid leave for new parents, but would also partially cover paid leave for drug treatment and for caregivers to those receiving treatment.

Paid leave for those seeking or receiving treatment would be included under serious medical needs and could help those with substance abuse issues retain employment and avoid incarceration.