Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Texas' fumbling response to the opioid epidemic

Texas has botched its response to the opioid epidemic six ways from Sunday.

First, Gov. Greg Abbott vetoed a bill passed by the Texas Legislature in 2015 to allow people to call 911 in the event of an overdose without being charged with drug possession. As the law stands, it disincentivizes calling for emergency services because helping a friend who overdosed exposes the caller to prosecution. More people die every year because of Gov. Abbott's cruel and senseless decision on that front.

Then, the state decided to crack down on opiate prescribers, except rules the Pharmacy Board developed are a chaotic mess and exacerbating the problems they were created to solve. The Dallas News editorial board gave a good assessment of the problem.

Finally, and most damagingly, Texas remains one of a minority of states whose leaders have adamantly refused to expand Medicaid, even though every analysis of the opioid crisis has emphasized the woeful lack of resources for drug treatment as the state's biggest barrier to addressing it. More than half of Texas' drug treatment resources come through matched funds from the federal Medicaid program, while nearly all the rest is spent by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

As Grits has written before, there are two ways for Texas to increase drug-treatment spending without raising taxes: A) Expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, or B) reduce penalties for low-level drug possession and use the savings from reduced incarceration to pay for more treatment services. There is no option C.

No comments: