Arizona official asks for federal flexibility in fighting opioids
Emergency declaration allows options for crisis
An Arizona official says the federal government should fund, but not interfere with, states’ efforts to reverse the rising number of opioid-related deaths across the country.
Danny Seiden, an aide to Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, said Wednesday that the best way for the federal government to combat the growing opioid epidemic is to allow states to pursue their own solutions with federal funds.
During a panel discussion at the American Enterprise Institute, Mr. Seiden said he’s “skeptical of the government doing much to help,” but he offered a few suggestions.
He suggested that feds allow states to use Medicaid funds for substance abuse treatment in prisons and jails, and to assume more responsibility over funds for unemployment insurance and workplace development initiatives.
“[These give] more flexibility for states, which I’m always a fan of, because we are the ones governing,” Mr. Seiden said.
Mr. Ducey declared a statewide opioid public health emergency on Monday, but Arizona is not alone in facing an opioid crisis. Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency in May after Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan had done so in March.
Mr. Seiden said the public health emergency declaration will allow Arizona to gather better data on the epidemic and increase reporting requirements of health care providers. It also allows the state Department of Health Services to increase the availability of nasal spray naloxone, which blocks or reverses the effects of opioid overdoses.
Arizona, which averages two opioid overdose deaths every day, started a pilot program in January to distribute naloxone to at-risk communities. From January to April, there were 492 documented reversals of overdoses, Mr. Seiden said.
Opioid overdose deaths have quadrupled nationwide since 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC has called the opioid crisis an epidemic since 2011.
More than 33,000 people died from opioid overdoses in 2015, according to the American Society of Addicting Medicine.
Mr. Seiden was one of four panelists discussing opioids and society at the American Enterprise Institute. The other panelists were Christopher Caldwell, a senior editor at The Weekly Standard; Nicholas Eberstadt, an AEI political economy researcher; and Harold Pollack, a professor at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration.
“Every day that a person spends in treatment is good for them [and] it’s good for society, because crimes are not being committed [and users are] not going to the ER. There’s always money saved,” said panel moderator Dr. Sally Satel, an AEI resident scholar and staff psychiatrist at Partners in Drug Abuse. “But for a lasting recovery, certainly we want … follow-through on these programs.”
Opioids are highly addictive, pain-killing drugs that include heroin and synthetic substitutes such as fentanyl.
“A very large percentage of the wounded warrior group in the military, and a very large percentage of cancer patients, develop substance abuse disorders on these painkillers,” Mr. Pollack said.
Mr. Eberstadt used two maps to show that the same areas of the country experiencing the highest rates of death by alcohol, drugs and suicide also tend to have less religious adherence.
Mr. Caldwell called the drug crisis “an equal opportunity destroyer” in that it affects everyone, adding that societal breakdown contributes to the epidemic.
“The absence of things to do, the absence of meaning in society, the every-man-for-himself attitude … is poisonous because it just leaves people vulnerable to all kinds of bad things,” Mr. Caldwell said.
“I don’t think any of this will be enough … because this crisis is ultimately not a failure of policy, it’s one of culture,” Mr. Seiden said. “Government’s not going to save us here; it’s going to require more than that.”