drugs

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Doctors would only be able to prescribe three days’ worth of painkillers under a bill that passed out of a legislative committee on Wednesday.

The legislation would also increase penalties for trafficking fentanyl and other synthetic opioid drugs.

The bill comes as Louisville and other cities and counties around Kentucky are seeing surges in overdoses and deaths related to illicit drugs spiked with fentanyl and other synthetics.

Gov. Matt Bevin threw his support behind the legislation, saying he wants to enhance punishments against dealers of the synthetic drugs.

The Henderson County school system is preparing to begin random drug-testing. 

Starting in the 2017-18 school year, middle and high school students who participate in extra-curricular activities and those applying for a parking permit will be subject to the testing. 

Band Director Adam Thomas says he hopes the new policy will be a deterrent. 

"If they're at a party or something like that and somebody offers them something, we really hope they will say 'What if this is the week I get drawn in the random testing and we've got the big game on Friday or state marching band on Saturday? I don't want to miss out on that because I made one poor decision.'"

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The Appalachian Regional Commission has approved a $100,000 grant for Operation UNITE to continue fighting drug abuse in southern and eastern Kentucky.

U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers says the funding will help expand the organization's impact. The Kentucky Republican says Operation UNITE's approach to curb addiction has become a national model. Rogers helped launch UNITE in 2003.

The competitive grant includes $50,000 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Flickr/Creative Commons/Dimitris Kalogeropoylos

Maurice Ludwick says OxyContin used to be the drug of choice in Louisville. But that changed around 2010, when the drug was formulated to make it impossible to crush and snort.

Then came heroin.

“They’re all efforts to control the people from using, instead of dealing with the problem that they are using. These people just moved to something else,” says Ludwick, director of the Brady Center, a halfway house run by the Healing Place. “Before this it was methamphetamine and before that it was crack cocaine. The underlying issue is addiction.”

Kentucky Has Twice National Rate of Drug-Dependent Babies

Jan 16, 2017
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Research shows Kentucky had more than twice the national rate of drug-dependent babies in 2013.

The Courier-Journal cites a recent research letter in the journal JAMA Pediatrics. The letter says Kentucky's rate was 15.1 cases per 1,000 live births when the U.S. rate was 7.3 in 2013, the most recent comparable year.

Both were up substantially from five years earlier, and Kentucky's rate jumped another 40 percent the following year.

Alexandra Kanik

The opioid epidemic is on the agenda for political campaigns from the presidential race down to the local level in the Ohio Valley region. Election Day could shape the response to the crisis in states with some of the nation’s highest rates of addiction and overdoses.

Pat Fogarty, Director of Business Development and Mission Advancement at The Healing Place treatment center in Louisville said he’s seen the political discussion about addiction change for the better.

“There’s less stigma around addiction by the way it’s been approached by our leadership,” he said. “That needs to continue to snowball for the future and not be put on the backburner.”

Addiction specialists say that while they’ve seen progress, there is still need for treatment resources, prevention programs, and aid for law enforcement across the region. They hope candidates in this year’s election cycle understand those needs.

Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy

Kentucky is taking a new step to stop the recent increase of opioid overdose deaths.

A new website allows a person to enter a city or ZIP code and quickly find a pharmacy that has the life-saving drug naloxone, often sold under the name Narcan, that can reverse the effects of an opiod overdose.

The website www.KyStopOverdoses.ky.gov was launched on Nov. 2. 

Van Ingram is executive director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy. He says the website is something requested by many families in the state.

“I’ve heard from a number of parents of a young person with an opioid use disorder and heard their frustrations in not being able to find it, and going around from drugstore to drugstore and places not carrying it.”

Families desperate to get help for loved ones with an opioid addiction now have a new way to buy time while hoping for a recovery.

"We needed to provide people a resource where they can quickly and easily find where naloxone is available in their communities,” said Ingram.

Aaron Payne | Ohio Valley ReSource

The sound of sirens in Cabell County, West Virginia, has a good chance of indicating an overdose these days.

The county’s Emergency Medical Service had responded to 622 overdose calls this year as of September 24, according to ES Director Gordon Merry. Last year it was more than 900 overdoses, which surpassed the total of the previous three years combined.

The county received national attention in August after responding to 26 ODs in just four hours.

“That many overdoses in that short of time was a challenge,” Merry said. “It just took us off guard there.”

All 26 victims that night survived, thanks in part to the medication naloxone. Naloxone, also known by its brand name NARCAN, is becoming more a part of everyday life due to the epidemic that’s gripped the Ohio Valley. The life-saving drug is a welcome addition for emergency responders but they caution that it is no silver bullet for the addiction crisis.

Flickr/Creative Commons/Dimitris Kalogeropoylos

Louisville has been chosen for a federal pilot program aimed at attacking the city’s heroin and prescription opioid problem.

The program, led by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, is called the “360 Strategy.” It takes a multi-faceted approach to the problem and will involve law enforcement, medical and public health organizations and service groups.

It will include the formation of a Heroin Investigation Team, made up of Louisville Metro Police detectives and DEA agents.

U.S. Attorney John Kuhn said the team will investigate overdoses as crime scenes. Dealers whose drugs cause overdoses will be prosecuted in federal court and could go to prison for 20 years to life without parole, he said.

“Today, we have a message for heroin dealers,” Kuhn said. “You are killing people in this city, and we cannot allow this to continue.”

The Washington Post/Getty Images

Many people struggling with opioid addiction can't find a doctor to provide medication-assisted treatment, even though it's highly effective. One reason could be that doctors who are qualified to prescribe the medication typically treat just a handful of patients.

Researchers at the RAND Corporation looked at pharmacy records from the seven states with the most doctors approved to prescribe buprenorphine, which helps people manage cravings and avoid withdrawal. They found 3,234 doctors who had prescribed the drug, also known as Suboxone, to new patients from 2010 to 2013. The median number of patients by a doctor treated each month was 13. About half of the doctors treated 4 to 30 patients; 22 percent treated less than 4; 20 percent treated 31 to 75.

"We were really surprised," says Dr. Bradley Stein, a psychiatrist and lead author of the study, which was published Tuesday in JAMA, the journal of the American Medical Association. "We found that only about 10 percent of doctors were what we would call heavy prescribers, with more than 75 patients a month."

Only a fraction of the 4 million people thought to abuse prescription painkillers or heroin in the U.S. are getting medication-assisted treatment.

Ryland Barton

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch warned high school students about the dangers of heroin and opioid abuse at an assembly in Richmond on Tuesday.

The visit was part of an Obama administration initiative to educate people about heroin and prescription painkiller abuse.

Lynch is the nation’s top law enforcement official, but she said the heroin and opioid problem isn’t just a law enforcement crisis, it’s a moral one.

“…A test of whether we here in the United States can protect our children, our friends, our neighbors, our fellow citizens from the scourge of addiction,” Lynch said.

Heroin overdoses have surged recently in Kentucky — reports from Northern Kentucky, Louisville, Lexington and smaller cities like Mt. Sterling have linked the spike to doses of heroin laced with fentanyl, a potent pain killer.

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The nation's opioid problem comes with staggering physical and emotional costs to patients and families. But the financial burden on the health system has been harder to peg.

A report set to be released Tuesday shows a more than thirteenfold increase in spending by health insurers in a four-year period on patients with a diagnosis of opioid dependence or abuse.

From 2011 to 2015, insurers' payments to hospitals, laboratories, treatment centers and other medical providers for these patients grew from $32 million to $446 million.

While the latest figure represents a small portion of the overall spending on medical care in the United States, the rapid rise is cause for concern, says Robin Gelburd, president of Fair Health, a nonprofit databank that provides cost information to the health industry and consumers.

"That really shows the stress on the health system and the impact on the individuals," said Gelburd.

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Kentucky educators will be trained this week on how to administer a heroin antidote.  The drug Naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, is being made available to high schools who voluntarily choose to participate. 

Bowling Green Superintendent Gary Fields says he still hasn’t decided if his district will stock Narcan, which can also reverse the effects of prescription drug overdoses.

"I think anytime we ask lay people who aren't health care professionals to administer medicine, that's always a scary moment, but if we feel like it's going to possibly save the life of a student down the road, then I think we're going to have to move in that direction," Fields told WKU Public Radio.

The south central Kentucky region has not seen the rise in heroin experienced by Lexington, Louisville, and northern Kentucky.

Opioid High: Students Face A Different Kind of Test

Sep 11, 2016
Aaron Payne | Ohio Valley ReSource

It’s not just about notebooks and pencil boxes anymore: the opioid epidemic means back-to-school supplies now include things like emergency overdose treatments and drug prevention plans.

Many schools in the Ohio Valley region are using random drug testing despite doubts from addiction treatment experts about whether the tests really work to deter abuse.

A Tragedy, Then Testing

A new testing program takes effect this year in Belpre, Ohio, where students have witnessed the consequences of opioid abuse first hand.

On a recent Friday night, the Belpre High School football team made the trip to face Trimble in the second week of high school football.

Among the team leaders are Logan Racy and Aric Ross, who are both in their senior seasons.

Ted Horowitz/Getty Images

A powerful drug that's normally used to tranquilize elephants is being blamed for a record spike in drug overdoses in the Midwest. Officials in Ohio have declared a public health emergency and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says communities everywhere should be on alert for carfentanil.

The synthetic opioid is 100 times more potent than fentanyl, the prescription painkiller that led to the death earlier this year of the pop star Prince. Fentanyl itself can be up to 50 times more deadly than heroin.

In the past few years, traffickers in illegal drugs increasingly have substituted fentanyl for heroin and other opioids. Now carfentanil is being sold on American streets, either mixed with heroin or pressed into pills that look like prescription drugs. Many users don't realize that they're buying carfentanil. And that has deadly consequences.

"Instead of having four or five overdoses in a day, you're having these 20, 30, 40, maybe even 50 overdoses in a day," says Tom Synan, who directs the Hamilton County Heroin Coalition Task Force in Southwest Ohio. He's also the police chief in Newtown, Ohio.

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