The opioid crisis may have started with good intentions as doctors over the last 30 years began prescribing more medications for chronic pain. Unfortunately, many doctors and patients didn’t realize that taking opioid pain relievers will quickly lead to addiction.

Today, opioid addiction has become a full-scale epidemic that affects millions of people per year. In 2017, 11.4 million people misused prescription opioids, 886,000 people used heroin, and 47,600 people died from opioid overdoses.

In early 2019, Congress confirmed James Carroll as Director of National Drug Control Policy, a position commonly called the “Drug Czar.” The position has been vacant for two years, so Carroll’s appointment has given many people hope that the government can take actions to curb opioid misuse in America.

Since Carroll just received his confirmation, no one knows his specific plans for tackling the opioid issue. Previous remarks from Carroll and President Trump, however, may indicate which direction the Drug Czar’s office will take.

Lifting Medicaid Limits on Drug Treatment Services

Currently, Medicaid has limits that make it difficult for many opioid abusers and addicts to receive the treatment they need to stop using drugs. President Trump has recommended lifting Medicaid limits to give more people access to the medical care that they need.

The administration seems to understand that many people addicted to opioids became addicts by following instructions from their doctors. These addicts are not criminals that need to face significant jail time for drug possession. Instead, they need improved access to drug treatment centers that can help them recover from a challenging disease.

Carroll shows support for the president’s proposal. Assuming that Congress agrees to give Medicaid more funding for drug treatment, the plan could have a radical impact on the opioid epidemic.

Limiting Opioid Prescriptions from Doctors

Carroll has thrown his support behind Indiana’s law that limits the number of pills doctors can prescribe to new patients. Moving this approach to a national level would encourage doctors to think twice about the effects that opioids can have on their patients. It would also limit the damaging effects of pill mills that prescribe nearly unlimited amounts of opioid drugs to patients.

Expanding Access to Naloxone for First Responders

Naloxone, a medication that reverses opioid overdoses, has saved thousands of people from death. Unfortunately, the medication’s usefulness and popularity have led to higher prices. The new Drug Czar plans to give first responders better access to Naloxone and other medications that can reverse overdoses.

Having more Naloxone won’t necessarily reduce the number of people abusing opioids, but it will prevent deaths from opioid overdoses.

Getting Tough on Drug Traffickers

President Trump has talked openly about his plans to get tough on drug traffickers. The new Drug Czar seems to hold the same belief. Their approach differentiates opioid addicts from drug dealers. Addicts are people who need medical attention. From the administration’s perspective, though, traffickers are high-level criminals making money off the misery they generate in their communities.

Getting tough on drug traffickers can mean several things. It’s likely that the Drug Czar will encourage Congress and state legislatures to increase penalties for selling opioids. The president has even mentioned the possibility of using capital punishment on major traffickers. Congress will need to make some difficult decisions over the next couple of years about how harsh penalties become for dealers.

Now that James Carroll officially holds the Drug Czar’s office, he can start to make significant changes in the country’s approach to treating drug addiction and preventing the flow of drugs into communities. It will take some time, though, before lawmakers can decide on the right strategy.