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Opioid crisis must be addressed at all levels

Lincoln County and Brookhaven will soon have a tool to help fight the opioid epidemic. Gov. Phil Bryant and other officials announced Thursday that state troopers, and local law enforcement, will begin carrying an overdose antidote.

It’s the first step taken by a state task force trying to combat abuse and overdoses.

The Department of Mental Health is issuing 1,450 doses of naloxone nasal spray to troopers and narcotics agents, paying for it with part of a $3.6 million federal grant, according to The Associated Press. The department will also issue the antidote to police and sheriff’s departments, starting in Lincoln, Pike and Walthall counties.

Though officials didn’t say why those counties would be the first to receive the antidote, we can guess why. The number of prescriptions for painkillers filled in Lincoln County last year was greater than the population.

“That’s a really good barometer of just how big the problem is,” John Dowdy, director of the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, said.

Last year, 211 people died from overdoses in Mississippi. Nationwide, as many as 59,000-65,000 died from drug overdoses in 2016. The number was 10,000 in 2015.

That’s more than the peak number of gun deaths annually (in 1993), the peak number of deaths during the AIDS crisis (1995) and more than the peak number of car crash deaths (1972), the New York Times reported. More Americans died from drug overdoses in 2016 than were killed in the Vietnam War.

Opioid deaths are a national health crisis that must be addressed at the local, state and federal levels. Providing naloxone will no doubt save lives and it’s a good first step toward fighting the problem. But it will take significant resources aimed at education and treatment to make a real dent in it.