In October, President Obama visited Charleston West Virginia to hear local concerns about the opioid epidemic. He also announced new national efforts to combat the issue. In West Virginia, the overall drug overdose rate from 2011 to 2013 was 34 per 100,000 people, representing the highest rate in the nation. this figure includes deaths as a result of the abuse and misuse of opioid drugs including heroin and prescription medication.
State Senator Joe Manchin says 600 citizens have died from these overdoses every year from 1999 until 2010. Deaths as a result of heroin use have risen considerably, from around five deaths in 2003 to 140 just 10 years later according to West Virginia’s Department of Health.
More Americans die from drug overdoses than they do from car accidents. Prescription pain medications killed more than 16,000 people in 2013 alone. While deaths related to prescription opioids have leveled off since 2012, deaths from heroin continue to rise. Efforts to decrease prescription opioid use have contributed to the increase in heroin use.
The federal plan to address opioid addiction focuses on ensuring those who are involved in the prescribing of controlled substances complete a training course on the appropriate use of the drugs. A lot of doctors say they received little to no training on safe and effective prescribing of opioid medications. The training will address best practices for effective prescribing of pain medications as well as the potential for misuse of the controlled substances, how to identify substance abuse disorders, and referring patients for evaluation and treatment, as well as how to safely dispose of the controlled medications.
This federal mandate is intended to serve as a model for other efforts. Several state, local, and private organizations have supported the federal effort through an agreement to provide training to those prescribing opioids. The programs will provide this training to more than 500,000 healthcare providers over the course of the next two years.
The federal program is also going to double the number of providers that prescribe naloxone, the medication used to treat opioid overdoses, whether from heroin or prescription medications.
After the success of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) National Take Back Days, where people can safely dispose of unwanted or expired medication, additional take back days will be held in 2016.
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