Brown wants to treat instead of punish drug users

Emergency rooms saw a big jump in overdoses from opioids last year.

Gov. Kate Brown told a congressional committee Thursday that they need to focus on treating people with substance abuse issues instead of punishing them.

Brown appeared at the U.S. Capitol for the Senate health committee’s special hearing on opioids.

The governor told the story of her stepson, whose daily routine centered around getting high. Brown said a teacher caught him abusing drugs in high school, but when the family tried to get him help, their health insurance stood in the way.

“He had to go through two separate outpatient and inpatient treatments and relapses before our insurance would cover the residential program he so desperately needed,” the governor said.

Brown said the federal government recognizes the problem, but added that the war on drugs has only made the problem worse.

“That leaves us, the states, to right the wrongs of a war on drugs that has done nothing to address the issues that drive this health crisis, while our prisons and our foster care systems are filled to capacity with its victims,” said Brown.

“I know that you have held several sessions on the opioid crisis to date, and I applaud this committee for taking such a close, thoughtful look at the issue.”

President Donald Trump declared an opioid crisis last year.

The White House also recently proposed $13 billion in new funding for treatment with the Department of Health.

Emergency rooms saw a big jump in overdoses from opioids last year — the latest evidence the nation’s drug crisis is getting worse.

A government report released this week shows overdoses from opioids increased 30 percent late last summer, compared to the same three-month period in 2016. The biggest jumps were in the Midwest and in cities, but increases occurred nationwide.

“This is a very difficult and fast-moving epidemic and there are no easy solutions,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Overdose increases in some states and cities may be due to changes in the volume and type of illicit opioid drugs being sold on the streets, health officials said.

The report did not break down overdoses by type of opioid, be it prescription pain pills, heroin, fentanyl or others.

The CDC recently started using a new system to track ER overdoses and found the rate of opioid overdoses rose from 14 to 18 per 100,000 ER visits over a year. Almost all those overdoses were not fatal.

The CDC numbers are likely an undercount. It’s tracking system covers about 60 percent of the ER visits in the whole country and some people who overdose don’t go to the hospital, Schuchat said.

Opioids were involved in two-thirds of all overdose deaths in 2016. That year, the powerful painkiller fentanyl and its close opioid cousins played a bigger role in the deaths than any other legal or illegal drug.

More recent CDC data shows overdose deaths rose 14 percent from July 2016 to July 2017, but that data doesn’t distinguish opioids from other drugs.

Associated Press writer Mike Strobbe contributed to this report.

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