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Editorial Roundup - Excerpts from editorials around the nation - June 22, 2012

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St. Paul Pioneer Press, on heroin’s rise (June 19) — As the Minnesota Department of Human Services reported this week that abuse of heroin and prescription opiates has risen sharply, Carol Falkowski came to mind. Last fall, in a Pioneer Press news report and follow-up for these pages, she said this: “Heroin is here, and we have never seen it like this before.”
We were warned.

This week, DHS reported that one in five admissions to addiction treatment programs last year was for heroin or other opiates. That’s second only to treatment admissions for alcohol, The Associated Press reported. “Heroin accounted for nearly 11 percent of admissions last year, compared to about 3 percent of admissions in 2000,” the AP said. “Other opiates, mainly prescription painkillers, accounted for 9.5 percent of treatment admissions in 2011, compared to about 1.5 percent in 2000.”

The warning last fall from Falkowski, drug abuse strategy officer for the Minnesota DHS, emphasized two facts of special concern: the availability here of purer, cheaper heroin and increasing use of prescription painkillers.
The concern is that abuse of common opiate-based painkillers can lead some users to heroin for a more intense, and cheaper, high.

For a news report last fall, Anoka County detective Gary Patterson told Pioneer Press reporter Sarah Horner: “I am learning that these prescription drugs are almost like the new gateway substance for heroin. ... Kids are going from zero to 190 miles per hour, from trying a pill or two of Oxycontin at a party, liking it, wanting more but not always being able to get it ... then they turn to heroin.”

Pain control is one of the miracles of modern medicine. From routine trips to the dentist to end-of-life care, pharmacology has helped ease our way. As with everything, there are risks and trade-offs. The risk that mind-altering drugs — legal and illegal alike — will fall into the hands of people who will abuse them is constant. No public policy — at least not any that fits a free country — can eliminate that risk. But, because individual addictions often create collective consequences, public policy that mitigates the risk is useful. We took note last fall when Falkowski and others rang the alarm about prescription opiates and heroin. This week, it rang again.

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The Courier-Journal, Louisville, Ky., on teens and college students (June 14) — It’s summertime, but the living ain’t easy — especially for teenagers on the job hunt. Fewer than three in 10 American teens now spend June through August working the jobs that have traditionally belonged to the youth, such as busing tables or working cash registers.

Employment rates for 16- to 19-year-olds are at the lowest level since World War II, The Associated Press reported recently.

We already knew that we live in a country where application pools for entry-level jobs are teeming with the overqualified; where job fairs touting underpaid positions draw in crowds by the hundreds. But now, it is also one where a 16-year-old can no longer expect to bag groceries all summer, watching those precious minimum-wage paychecks add up in their college fund.

These lower-skill jobs once filled by high school students now go to college graduates, immigrants and the recently laid-off, struggling to pay off loans and support families in a weak economy.

What’s even more frightening is that teen employment may never return to pre-recession levels, according to a projection by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The work ethic that was instilled in many at a young age may now be lost with the rising generation, the consequences of which we likely won’t learn until they take the helm of the working world.

The lower employment levels are also in part reflective of a cultural shift, in which a number of students now spend summers in college preparatory camps or arts programs rather than scooping ice cream, in hopes of better preparing for university life — at least academically, if not financially.

But Americans were smacked with another unpleasant statistic: The average tuition at four-year public universities rose a whopping 15 percent between 2008 and 2010 — faster than the cost of health care. Tuition rates have also significantly increased at private universities, with some lesser-known schools charging twice as much as Harvard. ...

So what are teens supposed to do, when work is nearly impossible to get, and public university tuition, along with loan interest rates, continue to rise? These are problems that cannot be ignored in the upcoming election. ...

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The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tenn., on the state’s bipartisan senators (June 15) — Jeb Bush has it right. The hard-line ideologues within the Republican Party would make it impossible for Ronald Reagan to be an effective president today.

Bush, brother to one president and son of another, spoke with rare candor about polarizing politics in America. No longer governor of Florida, he stepped out of the comfortable cocoon of the party line and stated what is obvious to most Americans: “Washington today is hyper-partisan with people speaking off political talking points rather than working together to find common ground to address the issues our country faces.”

A day later, Bush made sure that his comments were directed at both political parties and the Congress.

The popular ex-governor and member of what is close to a royal family in the Republican Party said it like it is. How refreshing.

Left unsaid was the fact that Republicans who dare to question even bits and pieces of the “don’t tax, don’t compromise” party line are becoming a rare breed. They have been challenged in their own primaries, picked apart on conservative talk shows and generally discouraged from even opening their mouths in the company of Democrats.

And that’s why Bush said neither President Reagan nor the first President Bush would find it possible to lead the country today. Both men accomplished a great deal in their time by focusing on policy solutions to big problems, not partisan politics.

Interestingly, the state of Tennessee still has a strong stable of these policy-first, problem-solving Republicans holding high offices.

In the U.S. Senate, both Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker have strong Republican stripes, but each has also found the courage and savvy to try to work toward solutions on gnarly problems.

Alexander and Corker are among the handful of senators who have begun meeting behind closed doors to try to figure a way of avoiding a huge budget crisis that is now taking shape for early January. ...

Of course the current Congress, as Jeb Bush notes, hasn’t the capability to address these issues.

To their credit, Alexander and Corker have joined the bipartisan minority in Congress that has decided to try to work up some options to help the nation avoid going over that cliff. That’s the way things need to work. ...