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How president’s public health emergency affects Idaho, opioid epidemic

The opioid epidemic is killing tens of thousands of people across the United States every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Idaho Office of Drug Policy says the state has been fighting this problem for years already. On Thursday, President Donald Trump declared a public health emergency because of the opioid epidemic.

“Certainly just making the pronouncement and bringing this to everyone’s attention I think is a positive development, because its a growing crisis for our country that used to just be kind of an inner-city problem and then just a big city problem — now some of the greatest areas in the country where heroin use is increasing is in the rural communities like here in eastern Idaho,” said Judge Greg Moeller, of the 7th District Court.

While the future of what is to come is still unclear for the Gem State, some people are worried about how to pay for this awareness. The national emergency fund only has $57,000 in it — that is not enough for Idaho to get a slice.

“The number is $57,000 and yes, it’s certainly is not enough especially when we’re looking nationwide. Idaho ranks 35th for nonmedical use of prescription drugs for the past year in individuals 12 and older. So we know when it would come to trying to divvy up $57,000 Idaho probably wouldn’t be at the top of the list, certainly, to treat opioid use disorders,” said Nicole Fitzgerald, interim administrator for the Idaho Office of Drug Policy.

In eastern Idaho, there is an option called problem solving court. Instead of being sentenced to jail, offenders are on strict probation — being drug tested three times a week and attending treatment programs almost every day.

“Someone that goes to prison – usually has an 80 percent to 90 percent recidivism rate, which means they’re going to commit the same crime once they get out. However, if someone were to graduate from a mental health court or a drug court, the recidivism rate is in the high 20s — below 30 percent range. So, they’re a good example of programs that use federal funds,” Moeller said.

A program like this, with the growing opioid epidemic, needs continual funding from the state and the federal government.

“We are unclear at this point in time what the declaration really means. Particularly around the finances. What we understand right now is that this declaration would give states and local entities the ability to shift existing money that they already have around to put into opioid-use disorder treatment. But aside from that, we don’t know much else,” Fitzgerald said.

What Idaho needs is a little of everything — support in funding, education and prevention.

“But I’m hoping that what the president is done might help create enough awareness and free up some additional money for treatment and other things so that our problem-solving courts in Idaho will be able to work better and being prepared to deal with this problem as it increases throughout the state,” Moeller said.

Experts say it will cost tens of billions of dollars to properly address for the entire country.

Saturday, Oct. 28 is Prescription Drug Take Back Day. If you have prescription drugs that are old or you don’t need them anymore, you can take them to a location with a take-back box. There are also several permanent locations that can take your unwanted prescription drugs.

You can view all the locations HERE.

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