David NelsonNearly everyone in Idaho has a friend, family member, or neighbor who has been impacted by the ongoing opioid crisis.

Idahoans have spent years trying to figure out how to contend with the most addictive, widespread drugs in modern history. The opioid epidemic has become a pressing issue for lawmakers, stakeholders, and various organizations alike.

Last week, Gov. Brad Little signed an executive order to address opioid abuse among Idaho citizens. The executive order creates a group that will examine the ongoing crisis and provide the governor with recommendations about how to move forward.

Before we figure out where we are going, let’s review where we are at. For the last 10 years, opioid use and addiction has steadily increased in Idaho. According to the Office of Drug Policy, a person dies from drug overdose every 36 hours.

During the legislative session, lawmakers took steps to begin tackling the opioid crisis. Rep. Jake Ellis and I championed a bill that makes opioid antidotes like Naloxone and Narcan easier to prescribe and more available to Idahoans. The legislation had strong bipartisan support and passed with flying colors in both the House and Senate.

These drugs can be used to save someone’s life if they are experiencing an opioid overdose. They are becoming easier and easier to use (some even function as a nasal spray) so that a family member or friend could quickly take action. We are hopeful that the new law will drastically reduce opioid deaths by reducing the amount of time it takes someone to get treatment. In some situations, a few minutes can be the difference between life and death.

But, wouldn’t it be better to avoid using these drugs in the first place?

Gov. Little has the opportunity to provide services that would make sure Idahoans didn’t have to suffer from opioid addiction or overdose in the first place. Lifesaving antidotes are great when you have no other options, but it would be better to prevent suffering from ever happening.

Idahoans need affordable, accessible treatment options that can help to manage and eliminate opioid addictions. Thanks to the hard work of Idaho citizens, Medicaid expansion will help to create some of these services. Recovery centers in all our regions are critical to fund to help people kick addictions. Funding from the new law passed by ballot initiative will make a huge difference in the quantity and quality of treatment services.

The governor has publicly stated that he wants to reduce the number of opioid arrests in Idaho. If companies that sell opioid-based pain killers are part of the problem, they must be held accountable. Purdue Pharma agreed to a $270 million opioid settlement with Oklahoma. We need to punish companies that have used marketing tactics filled with inaccurate information about how addictive and dangerous these drugs truly are. Idaho must join states like New York, Massachusetts, and Utah to put a stop to the predator practices of the pharmaceutical industry.

Drug addiction is, undoubtedly, a bipartisan issue. No one wants to see Idaho citizens addicted to powerful opioids with no ability to get treatment. We have the ability to make a real change, to save lives. And, hopefully, Gov. Little has taken a step in the right direction. I support the governor’s proposals and will work to help reduce this horrible problem in Idaho.