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Advocate Responds To Opioid Emergency Declaration

President Donald Trump’s directive to declare the opioid crisis in the United States a nationwide public health emergency could give state and local lawmakers more funding options. After Thursday’s announcement, representatives from a group that works with national, state and rural policy makers on addiction legislation has ideas of how the money could be spent.

Jessica Hulsey Nickel was a member of President Bill Clinton’s Drug-Free Communities Commission. She helped implement the Drug-Free Communities Act of 1997. On Thursday, Nickel was at the White House when President Trump declared the opioid epidemic a public health emergency.

“I feel hopeful,” Nickel said. “I think that this could be the beginning of carving a path for some real policy change that we need.”

As President and CEO of Addiction Policy Forum, Nickel recently testified before President Trump’s opioid commission led by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. She was there to represent the 4-million families, health care providers and support organizations who make up the forum. Some of the group’s members are from Utah.

Forum members, she said, represent a fraction of the 21-million individuals in this country with active addiction today, those who have a substance abuse disorder.

“Only 10 percent will receive treatment for that this year - 10 percent. I think this could be the first step in really addressing that,” she said.

Nickel says one of the needed changes to better serve addicts is to adjust policy affecting treatment centers receiving Medicaid. Right now those facilities are limited to having sixteen beds for addict patients who need help recovering.

“Can you imagine if we limited our cardiologist or oncologist to only treat 16 patients? she said. "And so changes like that could have a huge impact on the treatment access and closing the treatment gap in this country."

Earlier this week the Addiction Policy Forum released a four-year plan to address addiction in America.  Nickel says the 80-point project is a call to action for policymakers, including the Trump administration, industry partners, healthcare stakeholders and community leaders. In order to elevate awareness around addiction and to improve national policy Nickel said there needs to be a comprehensive response that includes prevention, treatment, recovery and criminal justice reform.

At 14-years-old, Kerry began working as a reporter for KVEL “The Hot One” in Vernal, Utah. Her radio news interests led her to Logan where she became news director for KBLQ while attending Utah State University. She graduated USU with a degree in Broadcast Journalism and spent the next few years working for Utah Public Radio. Leaving UPR in 1993 she spent the next 14 years as the full time mother of four boys before returning in 2007. Kerry and her husband Boyd reside in Nibley.