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Task force arms local officials in opioid crisis

November 21, 2016

The City-County National Task Force on the Opioid Epidemic is calling for strong leadership to begin at the local level, and with a report it published on Thursday, the task force is arming officials with a playbook for taking action in their communities.

The report provides a wide range of recommendations for responding to the growing opioid epidemic, focusing on collaboration, education, prevention, expansion of treatment, and reassessing public safety and law enforcement approaches.

A joint initiative between the National League of Cities (NLC) and the National Association of Counties (NACo), the specialty task force was formed in response to the rapid escalation of prescription drug abuse and heroin use across the country. The group now includes 22 members and convened for the first time in April.

While the task force also makes recommendations for federal and state officials, the bulk of its content is aimed at stimulating progress at the city and county level, suggesting such leaders should:

  • Provide strong leadership through effective communication. Drive community conversations by being candid when discussing how the opioid epidemic is affecting the community. Collaborate with other leaders at the local and regional level. Inform federal and state officials of what is happening at home.
  • Emphasize education and prevention. The task force expresses a belief in reaching constituencies early, educating children both in and out of school, as well as advocating for opioid training in higher education, and embracing technology. The task force also recommends facilitating safe disposal sites and take-back days.
  • Expand treatment. Increasing access to naloxone and medication-assisted treatment, facilitating clean syringe programs, advocating for the expansion of insurance coverage of addiction treatment, and investing in telehealth initiatives are all effective measures for cities and counties looking to help individuals with substance use disorders, the task force says.
  • Reassess public safety and law enforcement policies and procedures. City and county government, law enforcement and the Drug Enforcement Agency’s local program can all play a role in identifying how illicit drugs flow into communities, and cracking down on drug traffickers. The task force advocates exploring alternatives to arrest for low-level crimes, prioritizing treatment programs. Related, the task force supports so-called “ban the box” initiatives, which eliminate past criminal history questions from employment applications to reduce the stigma. An inability to land a job, the task force argues, can contribute to increased recidivism.
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