More than 30 governors from across the US are gathering in Providence for the summer meeting of the National Governors Association. An epidemic of opioid abuse in the states is one of the top problems facing the elected officials.
Governor Gina Raimondo said she gets reminded of the opiod problem when she least expects it. Like when she was doing a business tour in a town outside of Providence.
"I was talking to the owner of a thriving and successful business," Raimondo recalled, while speaking on a panel discussion Thursday. "He’s a well-off guy in a well-off suburb. At the end, he pulled me aside and said, ‘Governor, keep plugging on the opioid issue.’ "
In a private conversation, the business owner revealed how his formerly straight-A son spiraled into opiod abuse after a shoulder injury.
"He started with four Motrin at a time, six Motrin at a time, then the Vicodin," Raimondo said. "Fast forward, he’s been in and out of prison for years. He’s been in and out of rehab dozens of times. And about a month ago, he and his dad were at a gas station. He was in the bathroom for a long time. His dad had to break the door down. His son was nearly unconscious on the ground and he had to revive him."
Elected officials at the National Governors Association meeting say this kind of story is all too familiar. Yet despite growing awareness about the opioid crisis, many challenges stand in the way of progress.
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker said one issue is the shame still associated with addiction, and how it’s viewed differently from other illnesses. Baker said this became clear when he attended a meeting of a peer support group for parents of opiod users.
"I was at one of them one night and this guy said, you know, I live thin this town, but the first time I went to one of these meetings I went to one, you know, 30 miles away, because I was afraid that I might run into somebody that I knew here from our town," Baker said. "And he said I went to the one 30 miles away and I ran into two people from our town who went to that one, too."
The governors said progress can’t come fast enough in fighting opioid abuse. Last year, about 60,000 U.S. deaths were attributed to drug overdoses, two-thirds of them caused by opioids.
Governors say a mix of different approaches are needed to improve the situation, including a more aggressive stance on prescription drugs. On Thursday, Raimondo announced a new collaboration with CVS Health to fight opioid abuse in Woonsocket.
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said a greater emphasis on treatment is also needed.
"The first thing I’ve called for is treatment," he said, "and the first thing we have to realize is we cannot have millions of Americans lose their healthcare coverage and still effectively attack this crisis."
The future of healthcare coverage is still a big question mark in Washington. The latest GOP healthcare bill includes more money to fight opoid addiction. But Raimondo remains opposed because, she said, it would cut overall access to health coverage, especially for the needy. She said most of the Republican governors she’s talked with share her concern.