The Opioid Epidemic: How Cities Are Fighting Back

Seattle
Seattle
One of the many resources available on NLC’s opioid action web page is profile of the city of Seattle’s diversion program for low-level offenders, which allows police officers to redirect individuals engaged in drug use or prostitution to community-based public health and social services rather than to jail and prosecution. (Getty Images)

The most notable success was achieved thanks to a considerable push from city and county leaders during the last days of the Congressional session.

Opioid overdoses and deaths continue to be the leading cause of accidental death in America. However, city leaders can take some comfort that 2016 closes with several significant successes that should ensure progress on this public health crisis in 2017.

The most notable success, the sum of $500 million appropriated by the federal government to support opioid addiction treatment, was achieved thanks to a considerable push from city and county leaders during the last days of the Congressional session. The bipartisan votes in both houses of Congress demonstrate that the scope of this public health nightmare extends to all parts of this country – urban, suburban, and rural – and impacts all ages, incomes, genders, races, and ethnicities.

The legislative advocacy success came quick on the heels of the November 17 release of, A Prescription for Action: Local Leadership in Ending the Opioid Crisis.” This joint report from the National League of Cities (NLC) and the National Association of Counties (NACo) is the culmination of a year of work by a task force of city and county leaders.

NLC and NACo agreed to launch the joint task force in February 2016. The membership included both elected and appointed city and county officials from across the Unites States. The members brought a strong background in medicine as well as criminal justice, among other fields.

Providing a perspective on behalf of the entire 22-member task force, the two co-chairs, Mayor Mark Stodola, Little Rock, Arkansas (NLC First Vice President) and Judge Gary Moore, Boone County, Kentucky said, “Although news outlets often provide little more than a running tally of the epidemic, leaders at the local level experience the human costs of this public health crisis one life at a time. It is our duty to act with urgency to break the cycles of addiction, overdose, and death that have taken hold in so many corners of this nation.”

As part of the launch of the task force report, NLC and NACo created a new web portal. In addition to providing resources to cities and counties, we are encouraging local officials to make a pledge to lead on opioid action in their communities and to work in partnership with other leaders at the local, state, and federal levels. The pledge campaign announcement is included as part of an archived webinar delivered by city and county task force members on December 15, 2016.

In addition to the special web portal created for the task force, NLC maintains a collection of resources on its own website. These resources include the drug control strategy from Huntington, W.V., the Seattle-King County Police Diversion Program, and the opioid report developed by the Massachusetts Municipal Association on behalf of communities in that state.

About the author: James Brooks is NLC’s Director for City Solutions. He specializes in local practice areas related to housing, neighborhoods, infrastructure, and community development and engagement. Follow Jim on Twitter @JamesABrooks.

James Brooks
James Brooks
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