- Associated Press - Thursday, June 2, 2016

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - The Bismarck Tribune, Bismarck, June 2, 2016

Putting focus on opiates the right policy

Bismarck knows a national problem has started to grow in the area and wants to stop it, or at least slow it down. Opiate abuse has been described as a “national epidemic” and there are signs it’s taking root in Bismarck-Mandan.

Just a couple of days before a Tuesday meeting to discuss the issue a woman in Bismarck apparently overdosed on fentanyl. She received the opiate antidote Narcan and survived.

The statistics point to an increasing problem. In 2014, 43 people died from an opioid overdose in North Dakota, an increase from 20 deaths in 2013. In 2014, nearly 19,000 people died in the United States due to a prescription opioid overdose, or an average of 51 people each day. Opioids resemble morphine in their pain-relieving qualities. Almost 200,000 Americans have lost their lives to prescription opioid abuse since 1999.

Opiate addiction unfortunately can result from someone seeking medical relief. Opiates are prescribed to relieve pain. At Tuesday’s meeting of law enforcement, treatment providers, educators and community members, witnesses spoke of getting hooked on opiates as they fought pain.

Chad Meyers, of Bismarck, who broke a hip in a motorcycle accident, explained how he became addicted to opiates. His doctor gave him opiates after his injury and nine months after he was prescribed the medication, he overdosed. When he had his left lung and rib cage removed he was prescribed more opiates.

“Because of my condition, my primary care physician continued giving me my opiates, and that was my life. I could not live, I couldn’t function. I could not do nothin’ without my pain medications. I couldn’t get out a bed. I couldn’t walk across this room five years ago,” Meyers told meeting participants.

Starting in 2011 Meyers began his recovery and he’s now off opiates. It wasn’t easy and it took time.

It would be too simple to say the opiate problem is just due to people seeking pain relief. That’s not the only cause, as dealers who push heroin, fentanyl and other opiates are creating a dangerous culture.

Steps are being taken to combat the problem with Dr. Chris Meeker, chief medical officer at Sanford Health in Bismarck, outlining a drug monitoring program the hospital has developed. They will track who’s prescribing narcotics, who gets them and if the use is appropriate. Meeker noted that emergency room visits for substance abuse diagnoses are increasing, from less than 500 visits in 2011 to about 900 visits in 2015.

One thing that worries Meeker is that while prescriptions for opioid painkillers have dropped, deaths have gone up in recent years. That indicates to him that people are getting heroin laced with fentanyl.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., who organized the meeting, has a bill in Congress called the Budgeting for Opioid Addiction Treatment Act, or LifeBOAT, that would establish a 1-cent fee for every milligram of active opioid ingredient in a prescription pain pill. The bill would provide more than $1 billion nationwide each year to help establish new addiction treatment facilities and programs.

It’s possible to slow, if not stop, a drug epidemic. A number of years ago meth had become the scourge of the nation. Meth labs were popping up across North Dakota, often in isolated rural efforts. Stopping meth production and traffic became the focus of law enforcement. Meth hasn’t gone away, but it’s not taking the huge toll it took in the past.

Hopefully, the measures being taken will take a major bite out of the opiate problem. Opiates can help patients, the key is to keep them from controlling those they help.

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Minot Daily News, Minot, June 2, 2016

Minot voters have good options in election

Tuesday night’s Minot Daily News candidates forum illustrated a few things about the upcoming city election. First and foremost, the evening’s program provided evidence that voters are going to have to make some hard choices between good candidates on June 14. Tuesday night, all the candidates on the state purported themselves well. Each and every one presented a viable argument for election. They were thoughtful, genuine and generous with their time and their ideas. They deserve thanks for participating and a hearty congratulations for contributing to an enlightening evening.

However, that means some voters will have a tough choice come time between two (or more) good options, sometimes between the tried and true or between friends and neighbors. Hopefully voters will focus on their opinion about the future of Minot, on issues and on priorities.

Residents will have their homework to do if they plan on voting. Something else evident from this week’s forum is that there is still a lot of apathy in town. While meeting expectations, this week’s forum did not attract a host of new faces, of new residents or young people with fundamental questions about candidates’ platforms or about the groundbreaking council reform item on June’s ballot. A terrific audience of engaged citizens was present, but where were those many people who have called for reform and otherwise expressed interest in the future of Minot? Where were the scores of people who call, email or approach staff of this newspaper and have said there is not enough information available for them to feel comfortable with the current state of Minot or with the path it is on?

There are certainly plenty of ways to educate oneself on issues and candidates, and hopefully many people will.

Those who want change or who have ideas about the future of the city have to get involved and that means learning about issues.

Congratulations again to the many fine candidates on the June ballot and to those residents who choose to have a hand in the making of Minot’s future.

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