“Our beloved son passed away on Friday after a long, brave battle with addiction. Brett was a handsome, intelligent young man who fell into addiction’s grip. He was feisty, funny and outspoken but would do anything for anyone. Unfortunately, he struggled to help himself. He loved politics and history and could pretty much run any Jeopardy category related to the two. He loved his family and friends deeply. You could see that it frustrated and saddened him that his disease caused him, his family and friends so much pain and heartache. He loved the Green Bay Packers, Utah Jazz and the San Francisco Giants. Maybe more than anything, Brett loved animals. Brett believed strongly in second chances, maybe because he craved another chance for himself.”
These are some of the words written by a sorority sister of mine this week. She lost her son to addiction. More than anything, his family wants to share this event with others in hopes of preventing another family from experiencing this tragedy. By speaking about their journey they hope to encourage families and addicts to fight this scourge with everything they’ve got. As my friend reminded everyone, her son had dreams and plans and wanted to live, but in the end, the drugs were just more powerful.
A 2018 report states there were more than 67,000 drug overdose deaths in the United States. In more than 46,000 of these deaths, opioids were the culprit. That is nearly 70 percent. Synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, are on the rise. Half of the drug overdose deaths in Idaho were caused by opioids, roughly 125. Idaho doctors wrote 61.9 prescriptions for every 100 persons, compared to the national average of 51.4 prescriptions. With abuse at such a high rate, and be assured it has grown in three years, one has to wonder why opioid prescriptions are on the rise.
Is there nothing else that could be substituted? Maybe there needs to be a more restrictive eye on these drugs that while very necessary for some are being abused by others.
We have been “at war” with drugs since the Nixon administration in the early 1970s with varied results, largely failed. Despite our attempts to fight it, the numbers continue to climb and the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the problem. There were more than 88,000 reported drug overdose deaths in 2020, which is an increase of approximately 27 percent from 2019. Congress even included $4 billion in the American Rescue Plan Act for substance and mental health programs.
A 2021 report ranking states with drug problems puts Idaho at 48th. For once, being almost last is a number to be happy about. States were ranked high to low with No. 1 as the worst. The dubious honor of No. 1 went to the District of Columbia, which was included in the report. D.C. was followed by West Virginia. Washington state was listed at 35th. Red states had worse drug problems in general than blue, albeit a small but interesting difference to ponder.
It seems it is time to try some new ideas. I have lots of questions.
How can our state do more to combat the opioid epidemic?
Can we have an open discussion as to why some physicians are over-prescribing these drugs?
What kinds of pressures are medical professionals facing?
How can family and friends help?
Should the feds get involved and require all drug rehab facilities to accept Medicaid? Or do we only let the rich get drug treatment?
Should sentencing for drug-related crimes have a mandatory treatment requirement?
I don’t have the answers. But I am going to keep asking. It is only by dragging these discussions out from under the rocks into the daylight that we will ever deal with them. We have shamed too many into silence by calling them weak instead of offering our help.
As a mother, I don’t want to see any more of my friends have to bury their children because we didn’t try hard enough. It is just too darn heart-breaking.
Rest in peace young, Brett.
Agidius represented Latah and Benewah counties in the Idaho House. She lives in Moscow.