As We See It

Addiction and action: What Nevada’s doing to curb high rates of opioid-related deaths


It’s an unfortunately familiar story by now: A doctor prescribes an injured person narcotic painkillers, and that patient ends up an addict. Or a teen gets hooked by lifting pills from a parent, and unable to satiate his habit, turns to the streets for oxycodone or hydrocodone—or worse, heroin.

President Obama highlighted the problem in his March 29 speech at the National Rx Drug Abuse and Heroin Summit in Atlanta, where he announced expansions to a billion-dollar plan to broaden access to treatment and prevent deaths. Opioids killed more than 28,000 people in the U.S. in 2014, more than any other year on record, and at least half of those deaths were attributed to prescription pills, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The United States is in the midst of an opioid overdose epidemic,” the CDC’s website says, noting that drug-overdose deaths are up in men and women, whites and blacks and adults of all ages. In Nevada, there’s good news and bad. On the upside, opioid-related deaths are declining, though with 13.5 percent of deaths in 2014 attributed to heroin overdose, the state ranks third-worst in the country.

Another CDC-sourced study published by AOL names Nevada No. 1 for drug poisoning deaths per capita, followed by Arizona, Utah and Rhode Island. More than 40 percent of Nevada’s 17 counties have high overdose rates, and more than 90 percent of Nevadans live in affected regions.

But there’s hope. Last year Gov. Brian Sandoval signed into law SB 459, the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act, which establishes prevention policy—a stride smiled upon by the state’s Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Agency. Ideally Nevada would establish a CDC-recommended prescription drug monitoring database, rather than leaving it up to law enforcement, but the protocol is a start.

Tags: Health
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