Our view: It’s time to do something about the opioid crisis

October 31st, 2017 5:40 pm

In light of Luzerne County’s many budget issues, it’s easy to let it slip through the cracks — or in this case, through the prison bars.

But the request for a $467,000 increase in the county’s correctional services budget is hardly chump change, and division head Mark Rockovich’s primary justification can feel particularly unsettling.

Rockovich placed blame on an increase in female inmates. Ten women are currently sleeping on “boat beds,” Styrofoam constructs stacked out of the way when not in use. This in itself sounds like a stain upon the system; prisoners are still human, and a real mattress seems a modest accommodation.

An additional 20 women have been sent to Clinton County, costing $70 a day to house there. Simple math says that’s about $42,000 a month — hardly pocket change in a cash-strapped county.

Part of the problem, predictably, is the need to segregate female inmates. Even if the prison has space on another floor or at the minimum offenders building, it’s basically no women allowed, meaning once the occupation limit of 97 prisoners is hit on the women’s floor, the foam beds and out-of-county costs come into play.

It’s a frustrating scenario that can surely be blamed, at least in part, on the county’s inability to build a new facility — an idea that has generated lots of talk but no real action simply because it is unaffordable.

But there was a more disturbing side note in staff writer Jennifer Learn-Andes’ story about Rockovich’s request. The number of female inmates has been grown nationally, and the opioid crisis is being blamed.

The causes of this scourge have been well documented and do not bear repeating here. The solutions are now the issue, and so far we have failed statewide and nationally to come to grips with it. It’s time to do that.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more than 90 Americans die each day after overdosing on opioids, such as prescription pain pills and fentanyl.

The Centers for Diseased Control and Prevention has estimated the total economic burden of prescription opioid alone — healthcare costs, lost productivity, addiction treatment and criminal justice spending — at a yearly cost of $78.5 billion, with a “b.”

While President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national public health emergency on this problem was welcome, it has limited impact without real money put behind it, and is even disingenuous in the wake of previous calls for cuts in addiction treatment funding.

The political kerfuffle over the nomination of U.S. Rep Tom Marino as Trump’s “drug czar” was equally disingenuous. Marino withdrew his name after criticism of his prior work on a bill that weakened the Drug Enforcement Agency’s control of opioid distribution. That bill was passed in 2016. Where was the outrage then?

The notion that female inmate overcrowding can be attributed to the opioid epidemic should be clear proof this crisis has consequences throughout the system, far beyond the individuals own problems and costs. It is time to get serious about reversing the trend.

– Times Leader

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