By David Trone
In the final days of 2016, a North Carolina halfway house called to say my nephew was missing. It wasn’t the first called I’d gotten about Ian. He was like our fifth child and the focus of my attention for many years.
Ian was a drug addict. We made sure he had access to the best doctors, recovery programs, counselors and halfway houses. We worked with lawyers and parole officers on his legal problems. We did everything experts told us to do, but it wasn’t enough. After several days of searching, Ian was found in a hotel room. He was alone, dead from an opioid overdose.
My story is not unusual. In 2015, the most recent year for which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has official data, 52,404 Americans died from drug overdoses, an all-time high. Maryland is one of the hardest-hit states.
Government is reacting as elected officials begin to understand that addiction should be treated as a medical rather than a criminal issue. Restrictions have been placed on prescriptions for opioid-based painkillers.
Naloxone, which reverses opioid overdoses, is more widely available to first responders. Funds for education and treatment have been increased.
Unfortunately, these useful steps are colliding with politics in the Trump administration. Their budget proposal would cut 95 percent of the funding for the Office of National Drug Control Policy, the office empowered to tackle the opioid crisis. Their health care plan would eliminate the requirement to include treatment in basic policies.
The administration proposes enforcement changes that will send addicts to jail rather than treatment. Their belief that treatment and enforcement are best left to the states won’t help either. In Maryland, one emergency treatment center was funded after 10 were proposed.
The crisis has stimulated action in the private sector. Pharmaceutical companies are expanding efforts to create non-addictive pain treatments. Private foundations are helping local health care providers expand treatment.
But much more is needed, especially from government. Suicide and drugs are killing our young people and decimating their families. Many of those living with addiction struggle to survive, unable to lead healthy and productive lives.
We are not living up to our responsibilities as human beings or citizens if we allow these epidemics to go unchecked.
David Trone is the founder of Total Wine & More. He writes from Potomac.