Education the true key to combatting opioids

We think part of the problem with combatting the opioid epidemic these days is that a lot of people have what we would describe as opioid news story fatigue. Every time you turn around there is a new story about how prolific and devastating the opioid problem is. Every story is warranted — no doubt about it. All one has to do is look around in the Tri-State and one quickly realizes this.

A recently story published, however, caught our attention more than others. The story from HealthDay reporter E.J. Mundell documented how opioid prescriptions are much more likely in rural America than urban America. Wow. That seems hard to believe but, according to the report, it is correct.

The story was anchored on a study by Athenahealth, which is a data management firm for doctors and hospitals. Highlights from Mundell’s reporting indicate:

— Prescriptions for opioid medications have been declining.

— The decline hasn’t been the same everywhere, according to researchers led by CDC investigator Macarena Garcia. Her team reports that patients in “the most rural counties had an 87 percent higher chance of receiving an opioid prescription compared with persons in large central metropolitan counties during the study period.”

— Just 5 percent of patients living in the most urban counties had received an opioid prescription over the past year, compared to 9 percent of those in the most rural counties.

The HealthDay report went on to say the findings should serve as an alert regarding prescribing habits in rural areas. We certainly agree — however, we also believe that there has already been a significant decline in prescriptions given the overwhelming evidence of how harmful these pharmaceuticals have been to our society.

The irony of all this is that the problem, in our view, has shifted. There is so much attention being paid to medical prescriptions of opioids, etc., but the problem has morphed into a problem of illegal street narcotics like heroin, fentanyl and, once again, methamphetamine. Local law enforcement has told us as much — that while the national debate continues as to pharmaceuticals, it is now the illegal narcotics that are crushing people, overwhelming our criminal justice system and jails.

This is certainly important information to be had. As the problem morphs so must our public policy. We also know from history that every effort to eliminate the dissemination of illegal, hardcore narcotics has been made, yet their presence persists. Our belief is the long-term solution is found in treatment for those who are committed to surviving this scourge, and over the long-term, prolific education campaigns for our youth about the devastating impacts of substance abuse. Education, again, is the true key to combatting opioids. If we can document for young people what using heroin truly does to people in a short period of time, instead of just talking about it, very few would ever have any desire to do it.

The Daily Independent of Ashland