Addressing the Opioid Epidemic Together

The opioid epidemic in the United States is inescapable. It doesn’t discriminate based on age, race, gender or income — it exists everywhere, and it impacts everyone. From all-too-regular 9-1-1 calls to climbing death tolls and families torn apart by tragedy, the addiction epidemic is front and center in American life, and it’s gripping cities, towns and villages across the country.

For years, NLC has worked to combat the opioid crisis in partnership with our members by hosting workshops, discussions and webinars; establishing the City-County National Taskforce on the Opioid Epidemic; and publishing our “Prescription for Action” in partnership with the National Association of Counties. During that time, however, the epidemic has gotten worse, and drug overdoses now claim the lives of more than 64,000 people each year.

In 2018, we’re expanding our work on the opioid crisis in new ways. As part of a competitive application process, NLC chose six mayors to come together for a deep-dive, solutions oriented, peer-to-peer learning and capacity building experience that explores ways cities can partner with county and state officials to address the opioid epidemic.

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The ‘Mayors’ Institute on Opioids: Aligning Local and State Leaders to Address the Epidemic,’ which will take place in Boston in May, is a signature NLC learning model that will ensure a robust, expert-informed and city-led planning effort to spur greater alignment across local systems — including education, public safety and health – to meet the challenges associated with the epidemic.

Participating mayors will bring teams that include county and state officials. The group will look closely at their respective strengths and weaknesses and discuss key areas ranging from prevention, treatment and recovery to effective harm reduction efforts. Our six participating mayors include:

  • Mayor Joyce Craig, Manchester, New Hampshire
  • Mayor Madeline Rogero, Knoxville, Tennessee
  • Mayor Paul Soglin, Madison, Wisconsin
  • Mayor Steve Williams, Huntington, West Virginia
  • Mayor Victoria Woodards, Tacoma, Washington
  • Mayor Jon Mitchell, New Bedford, Massachusetts

NLC will share best practices from the Mayors’ Institute, as well as additional lessons learned from the cities during the year of technical assistance that follows. Our goal over the coming months is to create a ripple effect and provide information and insights that help every city leader who is grappling with this crisis.

Our latest report addressing the opioid crisis, “Opioid Use Disorder: City Actions and Opportunities to Address the Epidemic,” is a first step toward that goal. It contains short examples of efforts in cities from across the country, including an emphasis on state and local strategies that inform our collective efforts.

In examining the current state of city efforts to address the opioid epidemic, there are certainly some bright spots on the horizon in the haze of addiction, isolation and depression that comes with confronting this issue. I have no doubt, cities will continue to rise to meet this challenge and further strengthen the resilience of our communities to successfully overcome this crisis.

But, as we all recognize, there are no silver bullets and it will take cities working together and in collaboration with state and other local leaders to turn the tide to effectively address the challenge before us. That is why we are proud that the Mayors’ Institute is being conducted in consultation with the National Governors Association and National Association of Counties.

Our country has struggled with how to respond to major substance abuse and mental health issues in the recent past, but we have an opportunity to learn from mistakes, and ultimately prevent and treat individuals suffering from addiction. We must continue to understand what’s working, what’s not and build stronger paths forward. Our only chance at confronting and overcoming the opioid epidemic is to work together.

SmJm0SmP.jpgAbout the Author: Clarence E. Anthony is the CEO & Executive Director of the National League of Cities. Follow him on Twitter @ceanthony50.