Idaho Gov. Brad Little is hoping a new advisory group will provide some much-needed advice and recommendations for how to combat the ongoing opioid epidemic.

The governor created the group via executive order Thursday. It will include at least 20 members from a broad array of public agencies, as well as representatives from Idaho’s American Indian tribes, the state Legislature and local government officials.

Melinda Smyser, administrator of the governor’s Office of Drug Policy, will head up the panel.

“The opioid crisis is taking lives and destroying families in Idaho,” Little said in a news release. “My executive order uses a broad, holistic approach to examine the crisis, so we can develop solutions that save lives and create a brighter future for our state.”

Although Idaho hasn’t seen the level of overdose deaths that other states have experienced, its per-capita prescription rate has exceeded the national average for more than a decade. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 70.3 opioid prescriptions were dispensed for every 100 people in the state in 2017, compared to a national average of 58.7.

Nationally, prescription painkillers like OxyContin or Percocet, together with illicit opioids like heroin and fentanyl, are primary factors in drug overdose deaths. A record 70,237 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2017, a four-fold increase in the past 20 years; according to the CDC, opioids accounted for two-thirds of the deaths.

The executive order comes less than two weeks after Attorney General Lawrence Wasden filed a lawsuit against OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharma. The suit accuses the drug-maker of engaging in “one of the deadliest marketing campaigns in history,” misleading doctors and patients about the risks of using opioids.

Little wants the new advisory group to do research and provide recommendations on a variety of issues, including:

Policies for law enforcement and prosecutors to refer first-time, nonviolent drug offenders to local crisis centers for treatment, rather than arrest and indictment;

Prescription practices and limitations, including use of Idaho’s prescription monitoring program;

Educating the medical community about opioid regimens, risks and alternatives;

Treatment options for opioid and substance misuse;

Coordinating and integrating efforts with patients’ current behavioral health plans;

Mandates for reporting overdose deaths;

Public awareness campaigns about opioid risks;

Best practices that other states have used to combat opioid abuse and substance use disorders;

And actions that can be taken at the federal level to assist in these efforts.

“Idaho’s collaborative approach has led to significant progress in combating opioid misuse to date, but there’s more we can do,” Little said. “My executive order establishes an advisory group that will ensure we’re investing in the right strategies and programs to make a meaningful difference for our state.”

In addition to Smyser, the advisory group will include representatives from the Department of Health and Welfare; the state medicine, dentistry and pharmacy licensing boards; the Department of Correction; Idaho State Police; Department of Education; and Division of Veterans Services.

Other members will representative Idaho’s Indian tribes, the Idaho House and Idaho Senate, the state judiciary, a county sheriff, county prosecutor and city police chief, and the medical, hospital, pharmacy, treatment and insurance industries.

Little also direct state agencies to take additional steps to fight opioid and substance misuse, including:

Having the Board of Pharmacy research funding mechanisms to integrate prescription drug monitoring program data with electronic medical records and pharmacy dispensing systems;

Having agencies formulate plans to improve access to medication-assisted therapies and promote opioid-alternative pain management in existing health plans;

Directing the Office of Drug Policy to continue efforts to promote and broaden drug disposal programs, evaluate and pursue further opioid education and prevention measures, and partner with local officials to expand the availability of naloxone, an “opioid antagonist” drug used to treat drug overdoses;

Directing the Department of Correction, in conjunction with the Department of Health and Welfare, to develop a pilot program utilizing a medication-assisted therapy program for offenders convicted of opioid possession or use.

William L. Spence may be contacted at bspence@lmtribune.com or (208) 791-9168.

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