Wyoming Governor Matt Mead was in Washington for the National Governors Association Meeting and the nations opioid crisis was a central focus.
The nation is now annually witnessing as many deaths from Opioids and heroin in the nation as were lost during the entire Vietnam War. Governor Mead says policymakers have to think more broadly about the crisis.
“But it, you know, there’s cause and effect and when you look at substance abuse because- you know I started my life as a prosecutor at Gillette and cocaine was the issue and then crack was the issue and then meth and then crystal meth. And so, I think it is really important that we look at opioid abuse because 'it's legal and a doctor gave it to me.' But, as we're looking at that, we can't forget the overall macro view that we have to have if substance abuse remains a problem.”
Mead is a state’s rights conservative, but he says this crisis is an issue where states like Wyoming need strong federal assistance, especially when it comes to the importation of deadly substances like fentanyl that’s coming in from China and Mexico before being laced in drugs like heroin.
“We need to clamp down on this, but we have to watch it in every other area because it is a bit of a whack-a-mole situation. You hit on one area and heroin then pops up. So, it's something we have to look at very broadly. It's not just an opioid problem, it's a substance abuse problem within our state and our country."
Dealing with this issue could strain Wyoming's budget, so Mead says states need more federal assistance for everything from first responders to local health centers.
“I think it is important. I mean, not just Wyoming, but all states get money for health programs from the federal government and I think our hope is the federal government is just as responsive to this as I think the state should be.”
Mead says it was good to hear from other governors on what they’re doing on the ground because he wants to help stem the tide of addiction which is crippling many families.
“And it's, again, it's not just about the individual it's a cost to our society when people are not able to function properly because they have an addiction problem and so, I had a great hearing of what other states were doing last or yesterday. I think there's opportunity for improvement in Wyoming and all states and so we're going to keep after."
While Mead says the White House is stepping up its efforts, other governors are more critical.
North Carolina Democratic Governor Roy Cooper served on the president’s opioid commission and he says more is needed.
“I’ve been concerned about it and they have not moved fast enough.”
Cooper says federal policymakers are missing a key part of the issue.
“The big issue here is one they have not addressed and that is medical coverage for everyone. I mean quality health care coverage for everyone would do more than anything to address the opioid problem, because then you have quality treatment for everyone. And that is the main key right now.”
New Jersey Democratic Governor Phil Murphy echoes the point.
“If this is a health care crisis, which it is in New Jersey, and it sounds like around the country, access to health care. Let’s stop trying to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. Let’s strengthen it and make sure folks get the access to health care they need.”
But the administration continues to try to gut Obamacare and Republicans in Congress repealed the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance mandate. And for Republicans like Wyoming Senator John Barrasso repealing Obamacare remains a goal and they say it’s a separate issue from the opioid crisis.
"Education, funding, involvement of the medical community, involvement of the patient community, the mental health community, all of those are important components."
Barrasso is a doctor and he says a part of what’s needed is better training for the medical community.
“The opioid crisis continues to be very significant nation-wide, but certainly in Wyoming as well. I've met with a number of physicians today as well as last week in the State of Wyoming. Clearly, doctors are now realizing just how addictive these substances are that I don't think doctors recognized early on as they were prescribing. So, there's a whole new attention to prescribing as well as treatment we need to do more in terms of both educating the public in terms of the risks as well as treating patients who've become addicted."
Congress has to pass a government funding bill by the end of March and health advocates are fighting to get billions of dollars more directed to combating the epidemic.