opioids

Ashton Marra, WVPB

Trump administration officials have been visiting parts of the country affected by the opioid addiction crisis, including the Ohio Valley region. The administration called it a “listening tour,” and they got an earful in events marked by protests and controversies.

Some people working to combat the epidemic in the region say they’re concerned about the potential effects of the administration’s approach, including proposed health care changes and a possible return to harsher criminal prosecutions for drug charges.

Last October then-candidate Donald Trump laid out his plan to tackle the opioid epidemic. In a campaign event he focused on stopping the flow of drugs, issuing harsher trafficking penalties, and supporting addiction treatment.


Addiction experts are up in arms over remarks by Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price in which he referred to medication-assisted treatment for addiction as "substituting one opioid for another."

Nearly 700 researchers and practitioners sent a letter Monday communicating their criticisms to Price and urging him to "set the record straight."

Park Place Recovery Center for Women

Kentucky’s opioid addiction epidemic sometimes takes its toll on the most vulnerable in society – babies.

Now the healthcare services company LifeSkills is opening a new substance abuse treatment center in Scottsville. It will accept pregnant women, as well women with  infants up to 10 months old.

Geneva Bradshaw is program manager for Park Place Recovery Center for Women.

"We believe the addition of being able to bring their infants will definitely increase their motivation for wanting to get assistance and the help that they need.”

Bradshaw says pregnant women pose a major risk to their babies when use they opioids.

Jeff Young

The Ohio Valley’s opioid epidemic has effects far beyond the individuals struggling through addiction, with families and children suffering as well. An organization that helps children in abuse cases now sees substance abuse as a leading contributor, and could be overwhelmed by the addiction crisis.

Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children --CASA for short-- is a nationwide organization in which community volunteers are designated by judges to serve as the voice for children involved in abuse and neglect cases.


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.

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.

John Moore/Getty Images

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.

Flickr/Creative Commons

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.

Flickr/Creative Commons/Dimitris Kalogeropoylos

Elizabeth Boccieri has been using meth and oxycontin in the past few days, ever since she heard about extra-strength laced heroin that’s been making its way south from Ohio to Louisville.

Law enforcement officials are worried that heroin laced with poison finally reached Louisville this week. Twenty-eight people have been hospitalized with suspected heroin overdoses in Louisville in the past three days, according to local hospitals. One died on Wednesday.

And while it will take weeks to for officials to determine whether the heroin is laced through toxicology testing, it’s what’s on virtually everyone’s mind who encounters the drug in some way.

“My mom is, like, begging me to not use heroin,” the 29-year-old Boccieri said. “There’s bad stuff going around. And so I’m trying to stay away from it.”

Two weeks ago, Boccieri ended her fifth stint in jail this year for heroin-related charges, she said. For 49 days, she detoxed from heroin and other drugs. But after doing hard drugs for almost half of her 29 years, the habit has become her life. She is back to living on friends couches and doing drugs.

24 Heroin Overdoses Reported in One Day in Louisville

Aug 31, 2016
Flickr/Creative Commons/Dimitris Kalogeropoylos

Public health officials in Louisville are warning of a spike in heroin overdoses in the city.

According to WDRB-TV, officials at Norton Hospital say there were at least 24 confirmed overdose cases in Louisville on Tuesday.

Dr. Robert Couch, an emergency physician at Norton, said at a news conference that he saw eight overdose patients within five hours.

He calls it a "public health emergency," saying the heroin on the street seems to be unusually potent. He says patients taking what would usually be a small amount are losing consciousness.

Couch says larger doses of naloxone, a widely available overdose antidote that many first responders carry, are needed to reverse the drug's effect.

The announcement comes after recent overdose spikes in communities in the neighboring states of Indiana, Ohio and West Virginia.

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