Gov. Brad Little

Gov. Brad Little

Gov. Brad Little said he intends to issue a planned executive order soon to try to tackle opioid abuse in Idaho.

Little discussed several ideas he is considering with the Post Register editorial board Thursday, which he said would build on the state’s existing opioid plan. He said he would have to look at how to use the increased funding for substance abuse treatment the state is expected to get due to Medicaid expansion — one of the waivers the state is requesting would screen Medicaid enrollees for substance abuse and would let the state spend more Medicaid money on substance abuse treatment than it could otherwise. Little said he would talk to people in the medical and social services community about what their needs are and where that money could best be spent.

Little said in his State of the State speech in January he intended to issue such an order, saying it would “formalize a five-year action plan created through the Idaho Office of Drug Policy and the Department of Health and Welfare, broadening efforts to combat addiction while directing future resources and creating non-offender programs for substance abuse,” according to a news release after the speech. He has reiterated this in news releases and media appearances a couple of times since then.

Also, Little said Thursday, one of his goals is to increase access to treatment programs for people who don’t have a lot of money, in the hopes that more people can be helped before they get arrested and end up in drug court.

“We’ve got to holistically get our arms around the substance abuse, mental health, and how that affects health care and the families in Idaho,” he said.

While opioid abuse and drug overdose death rates in Idaho are below the national average, opioid abuse here, like the rest of the nation, is a much bigger problem than it was 10 years ago, and the Idaho Falls and Pocatello areas have had the highest overdose death rates in the state for much of this decade.

The problem has become more of a public policy focus in the past few years, both in Idaho and nationally. Little signed legislation this year to greatly expand access to the opioid-overdose-reversing drug Naloxone, making it available from any licensed or registered health care professional.

Reporter Nathan Brown can be reached at 208-542-6757. Follow him on Twitter: @NateBrownNews.