Brad Little opioid advisory group

Idaho Gov. Brad Little addresses the first meeting of his Opioid and Substance Use Disorder Advisory Group in Boise on Thursday.

BOISE — Idaho Gov. Brad Little on Thursday charged his new advisory group on the opioid crisis with bringing him concrete plans — including recommendations for policies that direct law enforcement and prosecutors to refer first-time, non-violent drug offenders to local crisis centers rather than arrest and indictment.

Little also charged the Governor’s Opioid and Substance Use Disorder Advisory Group with getting him recommendations he can turn into legislative proposals by January.

“Sometimes I’ve observed this issue from way too close,” Little said. “It’s one of the things that when they give you the keys, you want to do something.”

Little said he’s known people who died as a result of opioid abuse.

Melinda Smyser, administrator of the state Office of Drug Policy, said 248 Idahoans died from drug overdoses last year. “That’s 248 too many,” she said.

The advisory group will meet for the next 18 months; it gathered in Boise on Thursday for its first meeting. It includes law enforcement, state agencies, lawmakers, prosecutors, courts, hospitals, pharmacists, treatment providers, insurers, and representatives of veterans, tribes and more.

“This snuck up on everybody,” Little told the group. “There were some flags that went up early, and unfortunately most states ... didn’t address it early enough.”

The governor said the news that U.S. life expectancy is actually going down, in part because of drug overdoses, told him “this is really an all-hands-on-deck issue.”

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“I’m very excited about the breadth, the width and the depth of your committee, Melinda,” he told Smyser, “and I look forward to your recommendations. I look forward to us having a very concrete plan on what we need to do, so that in January when I give my State of the State (address to the Legislature), hopefully by that point in time ... we’ve got a really good plan going forward.”

The issue is a complex one, Little said. “This thing’s not easy. I‘d just love to slam the door on it and make it go away,” but that’s not possible. “That’s why I asked for your help,” he told the group.

“We are not Massachusetts, we are not West Virginia, we are not some of these other states. ... If you live in the (remote) Pahsimeroi Valley, having only a three-day supply of a necessary pain relief is a real problem.”

The governor said he wants the group to explore best practices from other states, but to come up with solutions that fit Idaho.

“Our drug courts in Idaho have been incredibly successful,” Little said. “The problem with our drug courts is you have to offend before you get into them. We need to get ahead of our drug courts.”

The governor said if a family member, a faith leader, a citizen or a friend sees someone with a problem, there ought to be somewhere they can turn to help the person get help.

It’s “what I see as one of the biggest problems we have in Idaho,” he said, and one of the biggest impediments to ensuring that Idaho’s future generations can stay or return here and thrive. “So I look forward to your wise counsel and advice,” he told the group.

The advisory group will meet again roughly every other month over the next 18 months, but Smyser noted Little’s focus on wanting recommendations for action in January. “We’ve got a lot of work to do,” she said.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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