This week President Trump declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency. According to the White House, in our country, drug overdose deaths now outnumber fatal crashes and gun-related deaths, with 175 Americans dying each day. An estimated 11.5 million people self-reported misusing opioids in 2016. And the numbers of infants born drug-dependent and children placed in foster care because of parental drug abuse have both increased substantially.
Fortunately, South Dakota’s prescription drug overdose death rate remains relatively low. Still, every one of these deaths is a tragedy, and for too many South Dakota families, opioid addiction hits close to home.
Jeff and Maureen Deutscher of Sioux Falls experienced something no parent should when, in July of 2015, they lost their son Nick after his battle with addiction. An active, athletic student, Nick was on the high school football team. After he sustained a football injury and was prescribed prescription drugs by his physician, Nick became addicted. Since their son’s tragic death, the Deutschers have become advocates for preventing opioid abuse. They are a part of a statewide advisory committee which has been meeting over the past year to address this problem in our state.
The committee also includes health care professionals, law enforcement, policymakers and state government officials. Together, this group has developed a strategic plan to address opioid abuse in South Dakota. The plan identifies four key areas of focus: prevention and early identification; treatment and recovery; reducing illicit supply; and emergency response to opioid abuse and misuse. To address this problem, systemic changes are required. For instance, earlier this year I signed a bill into law which requires doctors to enter painkiller prescriptions into a statewide database within 24 hours. Also, health care providers are providing additional guidance to their physicians on when to prescribe these drugs.
Addressing the issue will also require action on an individual level. That’s why one of the advisory council’s key strategies is to promote the disposal of unused or unwanted drugs, so they don’t fall into the wrong hands. Law enforcement agencies across the state promoted Saturday, Oct. 28, as National Prescription Drug Take Back Day. This gives South Dakotans the opportunity to prevent pill abuse and theft by ridding their homes of potentially dangerous expired, unused and unwanted prescription drugs. The service is free and anonymous, no questions asked.
If Take Back Day has passed by the time you read this or you can’t make it to one of the locations, check with your local pharmacist or law enforcement for additional disposal options available year-round. In the near future, the Board of Pharmacy hopes to establish these permanent take-back sites throughout the state.
With the problem escalating at the national level, now is the time to get serious about tackling opioid abuse. We need all hands on deck. Health care providers, governments, communities and individuals all have a role to play. We owe it to the Nicks out there who are struggling with addiction, and to the Jeffs and Maureens who are fighting for their loved one, not to wait another day.
—By Gov. Dennis Daugaard