Monday, November 17, 2014

Forming partnerships to prevent prescription drug abuse state by state

When Paul Jarris had a bicycle crash this summer and injured his collarbone, the 30 Percocet pills prescribed to him in the emergency room seemed to be a pretty standard amount. It would help keep his pain at bay until he could see a surgeon.

But in just the next 10 days, he received prescriptions for 210 additional opioid pills from three different health providers.

“Fortunately, I knew enough not to fill it," said Jarris, executive director of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. “But we have to keep in mind, very well-intentioned people get addicted in the health care system. We really do have a systematic problem in this country with prescription opioids.”

That problem is one that organizations such as ASTHO are hoping to change with the help of state-based organizations.

In Monday’s session on “Mobilizing State Action to Prevent Prescription Opioid Misuse, Abuse and Overdose,” Jarris joined other presenters to discuss what is being done across the nation to prevent, reduce and treat the opioid abuse epidemic.

There have been 125,000 prescription drug-related deaths between 1999 and 2010, and health providers wrote more than 259 million opioid painkiller prescriptions in 2012, said Grant Baldwin, director of the Division of Unintentional Injury Prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Additionally, in 2012, 16,000 people died from a prescription-related overdose — that’s one death every 33 minutes, Baldwin told session attendees.

One of the initiatives working to turn the tide on opioid abuse is ASTHO’s President’s Challenge to reduce unintended overdose deaths and nonmedical use of controlled prescription drugs by 15 percent by the end of 2015, said Terry Cline, president of the ASTHO Board of Directors. Currently, 46 states and two territories — Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands — have joined the pledge, said Cline, who is also commissioner of the Oklahoma State Department of Health.

The challenge calls on agencies and organizations across those states and territories to pledge to make inroads into worrisome abuse rates or create new programs concentrated on four areas: prevention and education; monitoring and surveillance; law enforcement; and treatment and recovery.

When it comes to prevention and education, more than a dozen states have pledged to step up their overdose prevention activities and widen access to naloxone, a drug that can be used to reverse an opioid overdose and can be easily administered by first responders and other bystanders.

In New Jersey, for example, a naloxone pilot program has been expanded statewide. Today, New Jersey state troopers and police in all 21 counties can get certified to administer the life-saving drug, Cline said.

“We are only as strong as our weakest link,” Cline told session attendees. “If we neglect any piece of this, our approach will not be as effective as it could be otherwise.”

Visit ASTHO’s President’s Challenge for more information and get statistics on the opioid abuse epidemic at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

— N.M.

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