COLUMBUS — The opioid abuse epidemic seen in some parts of the country hasn’t hit Nebraska — yet.
Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson said efforts are being made to get ahead of the problem and prevent it from becoming a major issue in the state, but abuse of powerful prescription painkillers is already on the rise.
“Our hope is we will never have a crisis here in Nebraska,” Peterson said Monday while addressing the Columbus Noon Lions Club at Hy-Vee.
Peterson made several stops in Columbus to speak on various topics at Columbus Community Center, Columbus High School and Columbus Middle School and also met with local law enforcement and other officials.
Opioid abuse and marijuana use were two discussion points.
Peterson said a state coalition was launched about a year ago to get ahead of the abuse of prescription opioids and the growing concern of synthetic opioid use. That coalition, which includes medical professionals, treatment providers and others, put the focus on prevention, treatment and law enforcement involvement.
“We don’t feel as though we have an opioid crisis, but things are now occurring that will really help us stay in front of it,” Peterson said.
A growing national awareness of opioid abuse is one positive step, along with a prescription drug monitoring program in Nebraska that started last January. That program requires prescriptions for controlled substances such as opiates to be entered into a state database that medical professionals can access.
New guidelines issued by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services on how to prescribe drugs commonly used to treat acute and chronic pain are another preventative measure, Peterson said.
As far as marijuana goes, Peterson has been a strong opponent of legalizing it in Nebraska. He said people need to keep an eye on medical and community health issues coming out of Colorado, where marijuana is legal for both medical and recreational use.
Marijuana is a stronger product now than in decades past, Peterson said. His biggest concern is the impact it will have on youths by sending a message that using the drug “isn’t a big deal.”
He said the tobacco industry knew its best target was teenagers to get them hooked for life, and the marijuana industry is the same.
“We didn’t like it when the tobacco industry targeted young people. I don’t know why the marijuana industry gets a pass,” Peterson said.
The attorney general, who is seeking a second term, also supports a phase-out of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
More than 3,000 young immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as infants or children live in Nebraska under DACA protection.
Peterson said his opposition to DACA is based on upholding the Constitution and challenging the executive action taken by former President Barack Obama to create the program. Peterson said Obama effectively created new laws.
He said he has empathy for those young people in the program.
“The reason I joined those other states (in challenging DACA) was I had to peel back the emotional stuff and deal with the Constitution. Because if I say, ‘This one really emotionally appeals to me, I’m going to let it go,' then you are in a position to pick and choose. I took an oath of office to uphold the Constitution,” he said.
The issue needs to be addressed by Congress, not through executive order, he argues.
“You may be OK with this executive order, but next month if the president issues another executive order and it’s unconstitutional, how do I pick and choose?” Peterson said. “We are trying to keep the balance so it doesn’t matter who is the president. These important public policy issues need to be debated on the floors of the House and Senate.”