Feds are getting around to opioid crisis

Federal officials plan to spend $4.6 billion to battle the opioid addiction crisis this year. That represents a substantial new emphasis on dealing with a very real crisis.

But is it enough?

Drug abuse is killing about 42,000 people a year in the United States. Yet much more federal money is spent on other health concerns. For example, the Kaiser Family Foundation has found the government spends about $7 billion a year to combat AIDS. Advances in health care for AIDS patients have lowered the death rate greatly.

AIDS remains a killer, of course. Federal funding to lessen the toll from that scourge and others is important. But given the terrible toll being taken by substance abuse, should Washington re-examine its priorities?

Meanwhile, the U.S. surgeon general recently did something that has not been done in 13 years. Dr. Jerome Adams issued an advisory. The last one was about the dangers of drinking alcohol during pregnancy.

Adams’ new advisory concerns the opioid abuse epidemic sweeping the nation. Too many Americans are well aware, sometimes for tragically personal reasons, of the magnitude of the crisis.

Use of the drug naloxone, which can revive victims of opioid overdoses, was the focus of Adams’ advisory. Noting that “knowing how to use naloxone and keeping it within reach can save a life,” the surgeon general emphasized, “BE PREPARED. GET NALOXONE. SAVE A LIFE.”

Having a supply of naloxone handy and knowing how to use it is important for anyone who may come in contact with an opioid overdose victim, Adams added. That includes members of drug addicts’ families.

Adams followed up his advice on naloxone with something just as important. Drug addicts can get help, he stressed. He suggests they and family members should call a national helpline (1-800-662-4357) or go online to www.findtreatment.samhsa.gov.

It is good advice. But what took so long? Why did Adams and his predecessors wait for so many years?

Deaths from overdoses of heroin, cocaine, prescription pain pills, synthetic drugs and methamphetamines have been on an upward trajectory since at least 1999. The upward curve became even steeper in 2011-12, when 40,000 drug abuse-related deaths were recorded. The annual death toll now approaches 70,000.

Federal officials have been too slow to take the drug abuse crisis seriously. It is to be hoped Adams’ initiative marks a reversal of that foot-dragging attitude.