Opioid crisis: Senator says Reno program could be national model

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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - Nationwide, overdose deaths from opioid use have quadrupled in the past two decades.

As a former prosecutor and Nevada attorney general, Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) is no stranger to the subject.

"I saw it working in the community as I chaired the substance abuse working group that I created. I heard it from our coroners. I knew the coroner in Clark County and had conversations that the number one cause of death there was overdose by opioids," she said.

The problem of opioid abuse and how to address it is what brought the senator to a campus near Renown Regional Medical Center Friday morning.

Crossroads is a partnership between Washoe Social Services and Catholic Charities. It's a transitional housing program aimed at helping the homeless move on from their addictions. About 20 percent of the clients living here arrived with an addiction to opioids and we're told that figure continues to grow.

Her visit comes a day after the president made the announcement that the crisis is now an official national emergency.

"Listen, the Trump administration has zeroed out dollars for any type of treatment for substance abuse including opioids," says the senator.. "Repeal of the Affordable Care Act would have cut back and taken away the dollars necessary for the kind of treatment you see here. So, we need to make sure that our words are consistent with our actions."

The senator toured the Crossroads campus, meeting the staff and many of the residents.

What she saw and heard, she said, reinforced her view that a patient-oriented approach beginning with the stability of a roof over a client's head was key to success, along with the removal of arbitrary restrictions.

"So that they can have peace of mind, know that they can get out there and be self-sufficient and get a job. And when they are ready they will move on, they will do so as long as there's that progression and that's what Crossroads looks for, that progression."

The senator ended her visit hosting a round table with representatives of several local agencies and organizations.

They told her communication and cooperation were making a difference at the local level and they pleaded for more flexibility and local control.

"At the federal level we need to make sure we're getting the dollars there. We're understanding what's going on. We're recognizing best practices like what I'm seeing here today and we're continuing to support them."

Next week ABC's Nightline will take a closer look at the growing opioid crisis. You can see it Tuesday night right here on KOLO 8 News Now following Jimmy Kimmel Live.