Monday, May 08, 2017

States increase efforts to slow down deaths from opioids; fatality toll keeps rising

Sign in Frederick County, Maryland, where
 the landscape is mostly rural (Stateline photo)
States are increasing their efforts to curb opioid deaths, fatal overdoses, especially those involving fentanyl, after earlier measures have failed to stem increases, Christine Vestal reports for Stateline. Fentanyl killed 5,000 people in 2014, 10,000 in 2015, and data for 2016, which will be released in January, is expected to show another steep increase. Opioids have been a particular problem in rural areas, especially Appalachia.

Fentanyl continues to spread to more states, mainly because it's cheap and easy to produce, Vestal notes. It's also 50 times stronger than heroin and is often used with other drugs, such as heroin, to intensify the high. "Even in hard hit states that have been battling fentanyl for more than three years, the death toll continues to spike. Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Tennessee, West Virginia and Rhode Island were among the states hit hard by fentanyl as early as 2013."

Some states are resorting to any means necessary to educate the public about the dangers of fentanyl, including billboards and radio and television advertisements, Vestal writes. "And standardized approaches to detecting the presence of the deadly drug and communicating its dangers—to drug users, people in treatment or recently released from prison or jail, and their friends, family and advocates—also are beginning to emerge."

Not much is working to slow down fentanyl overdose deaths, Vestal notes. Dr. Alex Walley, director of an addiction medicine fellowship at Boston Medical Center, told her, “What’s so concerning is that in Massachusetts, where, probably more than any other state, we’ve implemented all of the recommended strategies to address the opioid epidemic, overdose deaths are still surging, largely driven by fentanyl."

Vestal writes, "In general, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has recommended that states take three major steps to stem opioid overdose deaths: reduce unsafe prescribing of prescription painkillers, widely distribute the overdose rescue drug naloxone, and provide greater access to opioid-addiction treatment using medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration."

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