BOISE, Idaho — Idaho Gov. Brad Little on Wednesday declared Wednesday, Aug. 31, as Overdose Awareness Day.
The Republican governor issued the proclamation as the state ramps up efforts to stem the flow of illegal fentanyl that has led to increased overdose deaths.
Republican House Speaker Scott Bedke filled in for the governor, whose staff said had a cold as well as a conflict.
“Governor Little had a conflict so Speaker Bedke attended in his place,” spokeswoman Madison Hardy said in a statement, without elaborating about the conflict. She later added he also has a cold but tested negative for COVID-19. Hardy said the governor was looking forward to a legislative special session he called involving tax cuts and education spending that starts Thursday.
The Idaho Press reported Little also missed a planned speech in Pocatello on Tuesday, with his office citing a cold that wasn't serious.
Bedke read the proclamation on Little's behalf on the Statehouse steps with a background of empty chairs representing the 353 overdose deaths in Idaho in 2021.
Little in March launched “Operation Esto Perpetua” to combat the state's growing drug threat. Bedke is on a citizen's panel as part of that effort that has taken comments from the public on how the state should respond.
Bedke said the panel spent months traveling the state and listening to residents in town meetings, and have turned that information over to a law enforcement panel for their consideration.
“They will come to the Legislature in January with specific recommendations to zero in on this growing problem,” Bedke said.
Little in July directed $1 million to be used for testing equipment to increase the ability of police to find illegal fentanyl. Other efforts include an advertising campaign about overdose dangers, better availability of the overdose treatment drug naloxone, and expanding behavioral health resources to help those struggling with substance disorders.
Alicia Carrasco, a doctor at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Boise, said preventing exposure to opioids, reducing risk to those patients who need opioids and providing treatment for those with an opioid-use disorder are keys to reducing overdose deaths.
“Every time I lose a patient to overdose, I hope it's the last,” she said. “But I know hoping isn't going to do anything to change the future.”