BOISE, Idaho — 2019 brings new leadership to the Idaho Statehouse, and under Governor Brad Little comes new leadership at the Office of Drug Policy.
Melinda Smyser has spent her whole life in the Treasure Valley and before serving as a state senator, she spent more than a dozen years working with students as a teacher and school counselor. Now she's taking those experiences to help improve drug-related policies and procedures across the Gem State.
Smyser says she hopes, among other things, to improve drug education and prevention efforts inside Idaho classrooms.
"You get out of Ada County and Kootenai County up north, and Idaho is really rural," Smyser said. "So giving the educators, the counselors, more opportunity to make sure they have the skills that they can teach proven, effective curriculum."
Although programs already exist within some school districts to educate middle and high school-aged students, Smyser says Idaho is missing the mark on the ability to also reach students at the college level.
"I think we can focus a lot more on those students with prevention in regards to education and awareness across all spectrums of the universities and community colleges," Smyser said. "So that's something else the Governor is wanting to focus on."
The new ODP leader also knows a crisis doesn't always hit during typical business hours and sees the need to improve access to immediate resources for those with substance abuse or mental health needs. Existing hotlines in the state aren't ideal for needs 24/7.
"I called them on the phone, and you know, a lot of them are 8:00-5:00 Monday through Friday, 7:00-11:00 Monday through Thursday," Smyser said, "Well, we know crises don't necessarily always happen at those times."
Smyser says the state's also working to improve the process of connecting individuals after an overdose or mental health crisis with available resources in their community through recovery coach programs and informational handouts while at the hospital.
"Somebody's actually following up with them, to talk to them about treatment options. We've seen some of those models in other states and that's something Idaho's working on and I think that's something where we can put a really good use of our money."
And when it comes to improving prescription rates in Idaho and educating the public about the addictive qualities of many medications, Smyser says we're making good progress.
Five Idaho hospitals just recently adopted the 'Speak Out, Opt Out, Through Out' program we first showed you in our reporting from Salt Lake City, plastering waiting rooms with warnings about opioid dependency and elevators with educational materials on non-opioid alternatives.
One of her main goals is also to bridge the gap between different agencies across the state working to fight the opioid epidemic. There's a lot of work going on but not everyone knows what other agencies are doing, so Smyser says if everyone can get on the same page they can join forces and make even more of an impact.