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A Prescription for Action: Ending the Opioid Crisis

By James Brooks, Director for City Solutions, National League of Cities

Cities urgently need a plan of action to combat the opioid epidemic. According to the CDC, “more people died from drug overdoses in 2014 than in any year on record. The majority of drug overdose deaths (more than six out of ten) involve an opioid. And since 1999, the rate of overdose deaths involving opioids (including prescription opioid pain relievers and heroin) nearly quadrupled.”
Incidents of prescription drug and heroin overdoses and deaths is at epidemic levels. The number of deaths from these causes now exceeds those from automobile accidents according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While the raw numbers are overwhelming in themselves, they fail to shed adequate light on the extent of the human tragedy in America’s cities and counties where local leaders confront the realities of this public health epidemic one life at a time.
In response to the growing opioid crisis, the National League of Cities (NLC) and the National Association of Counties (NACo) released, “A Prescription for Action: Local Resolve in Ending the Opioid Crisis.” The report brings the knowledge and experience of city and county leaders to peers in local government and to partners at the state and federal levels. Specifically, it addresses issues of leadership, prevention and education, treatment, public safety and law enforcement, as well as specialized recommendations for federal and state governments.
The report comes from the National City-County Task Force on the Opioid Epidemic, which was convened by NLC and NACo early in 2016. The members of the taskforce – city and county leaders from across the country – are intimately familiar with the devastating impact the opioid epidemic has had on local communities.
Luckily, however, cities and counties are the places where creative and innovative strategies may be tested and scaled up. As in so many cases, the solutions being implemented across America by city and county governments to address the opioids epidemic are proving successful. Whether it’s the Safe Stations initiative in Manchester, N.H., drug market intervention in High Point, N.C., Recovery Coaches in Ocean County, N.J., or the Seattle-King County LEAD program, these harm-reduction efforts are changing the dynamics of the epidemic and are helping reverse the negative stigma attached to the illness of addiction.
These efforts must be reflected at the state and federal level as well. In its report, the task force recommends that state and federal officials work to expand treatment options, tighten medication prescribing practices and prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMP), reform Medicaid mandates, reduce barriers to clean needle and syringe programs, and intensify efforts to stop drug trafficking.
Of course, a more extensive list of recommendations and a set of resources are directed at local leaders. We know well that it is the city and county leaders who are entrusted with preserving the health, safety and vitality of our communities. It is those leaders who have the duty to act with urgency to break the cycle of addiction, overdose and death that has taken hold in so many corners of our nation.
The task force report challenges city and county officials to lead. From federal and state governments, the report seeks a partnership and a shared responsibility. For all parties, the report and the website offer tools and snapshots of promising practices that can be replicated.
Although this report concludes the work of the task force, both NLC and NACo have been directed to continue their efforts in this field, especially in efforts to confront the racial disparities in access to treatment and in the operation of the criminal justice system for those suffering from addiction.

This post was originally published on the National League of Cities blog, CitiesSpeak (https://citiesspeak.org/2016/11/17/a-prescription-for-action-ending-the-opioid-crisis/). Reprinted with permission.

Jim Brooks is Director for City Solutions at the National League of Cities. He specializes in local practice areas related to housing, neighborhoods, infrastructure, and community development and engagement. Contact Jim at (202) 626-3163 or brooks@nlc.org. Follow him on Twitter @JamesABrooks.