Monday, August 10, 2015

Worlds apart, two states form unlikely bond over shared concern of deaths from opioid overdoses

A pair of unlikely states are joining together to fight the same war over high rates of opioid overdoses, Brian MacQaurrie reports for The Boston Globe. In 2014, Massachusetts had 1,256 deaths from opioid overdoses, while Kentucky had 1,087, many of them occurring in poverty-stricken Appalachian Eastern Kentucky communities where coal mines have shuttered.

In Bell County, Kentucky, (Wikipedia map) "nearly two-thirds of adults in the county do not have jobs, and addiction to opioid painkillers has metastasized," MacQuarrie writes. "Miners often turned to painkillers after injuries, and many of their children became dependent on opioids stashed as close as the medicine cabinet. Nearly everyone here knows someone who has become addicted or died from opioids."

"The opioid death rate in 2013 was 93.2 per 100,000 people in Bell County, nearly double that of any other Kentucky county," MacQuarrie writes. "But C. Frank Rapier, who directs a federal task force attacking the epidemic in Appalachia, said the devastation in Bell County also reflects what is happening in neighboring counties, where federal officials believe opioid deaths have been grossly underreported."

In an attempt to eliminate pill mills, Kentucky in 2012 became the first state "to enact a strict mandate that physicians check a patient’s drug history before writing new prescriptions," MacQuarrie writes. As part of the plan, the Attorney General's office has been "aggressively targeting doctors whose practices are designed to profit from addiction." As a result, "prescriptions of oxycodone, a powerful opioid, have dropped 10.5 percent. Prescriptions for hydrocodone—also used to relieve pain—have fallen 11 percent."

In Massachusetts, "officials are pushing for greater availability of naloxone, a drug used to reverse the effects of opioid overdoses," MacQuarrie writes. "That effort is based on the pioneering success of police in Quincy, Mass., where the drug has been used to combat more than 400 overdoses since 2010."

The two states have formed an unlikely partnership in Washington, between Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), MacQuarrie writes. "The pair—who, McConnell said, 'have absolutely nothing in common on virtually every issue you can name'—have asked for a surgeon general’s report on the crisis and detailed answers on how the Department of Health and Human Services will measure progress on opioid deaths and addiction." Markey told MacQuarrie, "I think we can learn from each other. We can’t be ostrich-like any longer.” (Read more)

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