Va. health official: time to treat opioid epidemic as a health issue

WASHINGTON — There have been endless stories about the opioid epidemic and what needs to be done to stop it. But what if the focus has been on the wrong problem?

Phyllis Randall is a mental health substance abuse therapist, the Chair of the Virginia State Board of Corrections and the Chair-at-Large on the board of supervisors for Loudoun County. She says we should be focusing on the broader picture of substance dependence.

“Twenty five years ago we were discussing crack cocaine. Fifteen years ago we were discussing PCP. Ten years ago we were discussing methamphetamine, and today we’re discussing opioids,” she said.

“Although opioids is definitely the significant substance right now, if we keep talking about separate substances in a vacuum, we miss the point. We should be talking about the disease of substance dependence overall.”

She said detox programs to get people off opioids won’t stop the problem.

“Unless we have long-term treatment programs that have follow up after someone is released from the hospital or released from an incarcerated setting, we probably will not start to stem this crisis.”

Randall admits the treatment programs will not be cheap, but points out neither is incarceration.

“None of it is cheap, but it depends on where you want to put your money and when,” she said. “If you put your money in treatment and prevention, you’re going to spend a lot less money than if you put your money in jails after the fact. Again, this is a disease and with any disease you want to put your money and efforts in the front end and not the back end. It will be both cost-saving, but it will also save lives.”

She said that you cannot jail your way out of a disease and just like heart disease or diabetes, she believes the opioid epidemic is a medical issue and we have to treat it as such.

Jack Moore

Jack Moore joined as a digital writer/editor in July 2016. Previous to his current role, he covered federal government management and technology as the news editor at, part of Government Executive Media Group.

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