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How different states have responded to opioid crisis

Close to half a million people died from an opioid overdose between 2009 and 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Close to half a million people died from an opioid overdose between 2009 and 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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Close to half a million people in the United States died from an opioid overdose between 2009 and 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In its latest set of data, last updated in March, the CDC estimated that death rates related to opioid abuse have “nearly quadrupled” since 1999. The organization includes heroin and other prescription pain relievers in its classification of opioids.

The issue has become a prominent concern in the nation as doctors and patients work to find a balance between treating pain and fighting the addiction that can result from using prescription painkillers.

In his State of the Union Address this past January, President Obama mentioned battling heroin and prescription drug abuse as a top priority before leaving office. He announced that the 2017 budget will put aside $1.1 billion toward treating opioid addiction and prevent fatal overdoses. Earlier this month, he introduced additional initiatives to battle addiction.

Various states have also started their own efforts and legislation to curb opioid abuse as well, and they’re seeing positive results.

Needle exchanges

West Virginia and other Appalachian states are turning to needle exchange programs to help intravenous drug users avoid serious health problems.

West Virginia has the highest rate of overdose deaths in the country, and dirty needles can compromise a user's veins and other vital organs. A needle exchange allows users to visit a designated clinic once a week and trade in used needles for sterile ones. It also helps keep the number of discarded, dirty needles from injuring non-users who could step on them or inadvertently handle them. Numerous health organizations, including the CDC, have found that needle exchange programs can save millions of dollars in health care costs.

Since West Virginia implemented its own needle exchange program, reported overdose deaths have gone down 40 percent this year.

Different prescription drugs

In efforts to ease the withdrawal symptoms that come with fighting opioid addiction, the Obama administration has pushed for the addition of drugs like methadone and buprenorphine to patients’ treatment regimens. While the drugs are also classified as opioids, they can help lessen withdrawal symptoms and prevent relapse, some experts say.

Federal initiatives also include improving access to naloxone, a drug used to counteract an overdose. A recent study found that the drug is “a safe and effective community-based approach to controlling the opioid overdose epidemic,” and that “naloxone administration and overdose training are associated with increased odds of recovery.”

The FDA recently approved a device that can be implanted in a patient’s arm to release doses of medicine that help wean someone off opioids over time, and prevents patients from skipping or selling a dose. The implant trial found that more than 96 percent of people using the implant didn’t use any opioid for at least four months and that 86 percent didn’t use an opioid for six months.

Good Samaritan laws

Studies show that accidental opioid-related overdoses are becoming a leading cause of death in the U.S. When someone experiences or witnesses a possible overdose, the threat of jail time can prevent that person from calling emergency services.

As of Monday, Ohio became the 37th state to enact a “911 Good Samaritan Law,” in which someone may call 911 or another emergency service to help with an overdose without fear of arrest.

A University of Washington study done shortly after the good Samaritan laws began to appear around the country showed that 88 percent of people witnessing or experiencing an overdose would call 911 as a result of the law, but as Justin Peters wrote in an article for Slate last year, many people still aren’t aware of the laws and aren’t making the call in times of crisis.

Treatment, not jail

In efforts to help those addicted to opioids get back into treatment and out of jails, some police departments are working with treatment centers to help nonviolent offenders. The Police Assisted Addiction Recovery Initiative has partnered with more than 100 police departments and 250 treatment centers around the country, according to a recent press release by the organization.

Additionally, the National Women’s Law Center reported that 32 states are currently offering treatment programs as an alternative for jail to nonviolent, drug-addicted mothers.

If you or someone you know is seeking treatment for an opioid addiction, visit the American Society of Addiction Medicine for a list of resources.

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