Health

A drug that can reverse the effects of a heroin overdose will soon be available without a prescription in Kentucky.

The state Board of Pharmacy’s emergency regulation went into effect last week to allow pharmacists to dispense naloxone, a drug that’s already used in hospital emergency rooms and by law enforcement agencies.

Van Ingram, head of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, says the hope is to save people who can then be rehabilitated.

“Substance abuse treatment is the end-goal for all individuals who are addicted, but we can’t get them to substance abuse treatment if they aren’t alive.”

Naloxone can be administered by a needle injection, through an auto-injector, and through a intranasal device.

A bill passed this year by state lawmakers allows pharmacists to establish guidelines on how to prescribe the drug.

Heroin Overdose Deaths are Down in Three Kentucky Counties

May 11, 2015

New statistics indicate heroin-related overdose deaths declined in 2014 in three northern Kentucky counties hard hit by the drug epidemic.

Citing the latest statistics from the Kentucky Medical Examiner's office, The Kentucky Enquirer reports that Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties had a combined 64 heroin-related overdose deaths in 2014, down from 72 in 2013.

Leaders of the Northern Kentucky Heroin Impact Response Task Force say the drop shows community efforts are beginning to yield results.

Dr. Tracey Corey, Kentucky's chief medical examiner, released to The Enquirer the latest count of overdose deaths statewide that included heroin in the bloodstream. Her analyst noted that the medical examiner does not get all heroin-related overdose deaths cases, however.

The medical examiner had 233 such deaths in 2014, up from 230 in 2013.

Nationwide, a majority of emergency room physicians report an increase in the number of patients since the Affordable Care Act took effect. 

The law was intended to cover the uninsured and steer more of them into primary care rather than the ER, but that hasn’t happened, according to a report issued last week by the American College of Emergency Physicians. 

"We're seeing many more people coming in now with coverage needing service," said Michael Rust, president of the Kentucky Hospital Association.  "A lot of the folks are having access issues in areas of the country and state where there's not enough primary care physicians to handle everyone that has new coverage."

Kentucky had a doctor shortage even before the ACA took effect.  Compounding the situation is that most of the newly insured in Kentucky are on Medicaid, and some physicians won’t accept Medicaid because of its low reimbursement rates.

Kentucky hospitals have cut their workforce by 10 percent since 2013 as they prepare for an estimated $7 billion in federal cuts by 2024 because of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

The Kentucky Hospital Association detailed the numbers in a new report released Friday. President Michael Rust praised Kentucky officials for implementing the Affordable Care Act and reducing the number of people without health insurance. But the report by the consulting firm Dobson/DaVanzo says Kentucky hospitals will lose more money than they gain from the expanded health insurance coverage.

The report seems to contradict a study from Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear in February that said Kentucky added 12,000 jobs because of the Medicaid expansion. But that report included jobs outside of hospitals.

Lisa Autry

A federal law championed by First Lady Michelle Obama is up for reauthorization later this year. 

At Plano Elementary School in Warren County Thursday, Kentucky’s 2nd District Congressman Brett Guthrie solicited feedback on the Healthy  and Hunger-free Kids Act which became law in 2010. 

Following a roundtable discussion, Guthrie said he learned that schools want more flexibility in preparing meals.

"Everyone wants kids to eat healthy, but when you write a single rule that comes out of Washington, DC, that goes into every cafeteria of every school, they don't always work," Guthrie told WKU Public Radio.

While the federal act has brought more nutritious meals into school cafeterias, much of the food is wasted. 

"If a kid doesn't pick up an apple, the school won't get reimbursed from the federal government if the kid is on free or reduced lunch," Guthrie explained.  "A lot of times they have to make the kids pick up an apple and walk out with it knowing that it's going in the garbage."

Cafeteria managers says the healthy food has resulted in more children bringing their lunch from home.  Most of the children not eating cafeteria food are from middle and upper class families that pay full price for their lunch.  It hurts schools monetarily when those children who pay full price bring their lunch from home. 

Officials in Middlesboro have given preliminary approval to a citywide smoking ban.

The vote Tuesday came after a request from a group of elementary school students involved with Destination Imagination, an educational nonprofit organization that tries to encourage and equip young leaders.

The Middlesboro Elementary School students proposed an ordinance that would ban smoking in all public places. Their presentation to the City Council last month included a petition with more than 400 signatures and information about the health effects of smoking.

The City Council's first reading of the ordinance to ban smoking passed unanimously. A second and final vote is set for May 19.

Kentucky is seeing a rapid increase in the number of syphilis infections, mirroring a national trend.

Public health officials are seeking expanded education and treatment for the sexually transmitted disease.

Kentucky’s number of syphilis cases has doubled since 2009, to just over 10 cases per 100-thousand residents.

The Courier-Journal reports the figures from the state Department for Public Health also show Louisville is home to nearly half of the state’s cases.

Kentucky state epidemiologist Kraig Humbaugh says most of the recent national increase in syphilis cases effect men—especially men who have sex with other men.

Syphilis is a bacterial disease with symptoms such as sores, headaches, and fevers. It can be treated with antibiotics, but—if left untreated—could lead to blindness or stroke in later stages.

It can also be passed from a mother to a fetus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is calling for increased public education efforts concerning safe sex, and greater promotion of syphilis awareness and screenings.

The Barren River District Health Department in Bowling Green estimates they're a little over a month away from setting up their local needle exchange program for intravenous drug users. One of the key provisions in the high profile heroin bill passed by the General Assembly during their session earlier this year allowed local municipalities the option of setting up the exchanges.

Disease intervention specialist Chip Krause estimates their "Harm Reduction and Syringe Access Program" will be operational by May 1st.

The program is designed to prevent the spread of diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C from spreading among drug users who use dirty needles. Krause says a lot of people in the community have the wrong idea about it, thinking the health department is just helping addicts with their habits, but that's not the case, "A lot of people are pretty upset that these kinds of things do happen," he said, "but overall it's a good thing for the community because it prevents disease from spreading to some of the population that could be at risk."

Krause says even with a large college like WKU in town, they don't really see much heroin use but he says it is in the area and has to be dealt with. "You hate to say it's a big problem, but any time you have drug use with the possibility of spread of disease it is a problem and something we need to address."

An Eastern Kentucky nurse is suing the state for not allowing her to take addiction medicine like Suboxone or Vivitrol while she’s out of jail on bond.

The terms set by Floyd County District Court, where Stephanie Watson’s court case is still pending, prevent her from using medically-assisted drug treatment.

Most courts in Kentucky don’t allow those who are on probation, in jail or out on bond to use drugs that treat addiction because some, like Suboxone, are addictive.

Stephanie Watson was arrested for breaking into a Prestonsburg biohazard waste container to retrieve remnants from disposed drug vials.

Watson’s lawyer, Ned Pillersdorf, has filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Eastern Kentucky. He says that judges who refuse to allow addicts to use Suboxone and Methadone are part of a system that violates the Americans With Disabilities act.

“They don’t need to have judges or drug courts looking over their shoulder and saying we will approve or won’t approve that particular prescription,” Pillsersdorf said. “Our position is that opiate addicts should have the right to receive lawful prescriptions from doctors who are able to prescribe without interference from the court system.”

Indiana health officials say more than 100 people have tested positive for HIV in an outbreak of the virus among intravenous drug users in southeastern Indiana.

The state’s Joint Information Center said Friday that as of Thursday there had been 95 confirmed HIV cases and 11 preliminary positive cases tied to the outbreak.

All of the HIV cases have been linked to needle-sharing among intravenous drug users.

Scott County — about 30 miles north of Louisville, Kentucky — is the epicenter of Indiana’s largest-ever HIV outbreak.

Gov. Mike Pence declared a public health emergency in the county on March 26 that allowed the creation of a limited needle-exchange program that aims to stem the spread of the virus.

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