Action needed on opioid crisis

Opinion: Letters to the editor

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During my career in law enforcement, I've seen a lot of people in crisis. But none of that has prepared me for the scope of what we're now experiencing with the opioid addiction crisis. I'm especially concerned about the harm it is causing across generations. 

Here in Illinois, opioid overdose deaths grew by 76 percent from 2013 to 2016, and the rate of babies born with opioid withdrawal increased 53 percent from 2011 to 2016. This is a crisis that knows no zip code. In suburban Cook County, 340 people died of opioid overdoses in 2016 -- up from 221 deaths the year before.

Young children living with teens and adults who are abusing opioids and/or other drugs are at greater risk for abuse, neglect, and other traumas. There is growing recognition that these Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) can have profound consequences for young children.

ACES often bring intolerable stress that impairs development of children's brains and immune systems. But they can also affect health and productivity throughout life. One study found kids who experienced more than four of these childhood traumas were three times more likely to abuse prescription pain relievers and five times more likely to inject drugs in adulthood.

Solving this crisis will require federal, state, and local governments to work together to reduce the availability of illegal drugs, and give law enforcement the resources we need to address the many problems the epidemic brings to our communities. 

But we also need solutions that bring healing and hope to hundreds of thousands of vulnerable children. As a recent report from Fight Crime: Invest in Kids points out, one such proven program is voluntary home visiting, in which nurses or other trained professionals coach at-risk parents during pregnancy or during the first three years of a child's life. 

In the short-term, these programs can help addicted parents beat their addictions by connecting them with treatment. Long-term, home visiting is proven to reduce children's exposure to Adverse Childhood Experiences. A study of one notable program showed that it reduced incidents of child abuse and neglect by half.

Without swift smart action and support for evidence-based programs, we are putting public safety, public health, and the economy in jeopardy. With action – we can address the short and long-term challenges of addiction and get children and adults on track for productive lives. 

Thomas Weitzel, police chief

Riverside

Thomas Weitzel a member of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids.

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