During the past several months, we have seen in the media and heard at multiple forums the horrifying statistics and stories surrounding the nation’s opioid epidemic. For many families across Virginia, these tragic stories hit too close to home.
In this newsletter I have included information from an editorial written by Delegate Todd Pillion. Delegate Pillion represents Southwest Virginia- and in three of the five counties he serves, the highest fatal overdose rate in the Commonwealth is held.
While public awareness to this crisis has been growing, progress has been slow. It is time to realize that Band-Aids are not a fix for a wound this large. We have to amputate the prescription supply chain before we lose an employable generation to addiction.
Access to opioids is the central link in the supply chain. The United States accounts for five percent of the global population, but consumes 80% of the global opioid supply. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that significant increases in prescriptions and overall greater acceptability of their use have contributed to the crisis. Data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), show that approximately 20% of visits to physician offices result in an opioid prescription. Both supply and demand are alarmingly high and warrant a closer examination of the Commonwealth’s prescribing practices.
Earlier this year, CDC released updated guidelines to encourage clinicians to prescribe “the lowest effective dose” in treating acute pain. Several states have already passed laws requiring stricter limits for prescribing and dispensing opioids. Virginia must be next.
In addition to stricter limits, part of changing the culture means greater training and an emphasis on core competencies for prospective prescribers and pharmacists. We cannot expect patients to be properly educated on the risks associated with opioids if our medical professionals are not receiving adequate training.
On the other side of the opioid epidemic, we find concerns over the abuse of medication-assisted treatments. Bupenorphines such as Suboxone and Subutex are the common medications used in this treatment. Whereas Suboxone contains naloxone as an active ingredient that makes it more difficult to abuse, Subutex fills and activates receptors in the brain that can mimic a “high” and become addictive. Because there is little accountability and oversight, users and pill mill doctors are taking advantage of this opportunity to create a market for themselves. As a result, there is a serious difference in the street value – approximately $60 for Subutex and $25 for Suboxone in parts of Southwest Virginia.
This epidemic is complex and impacts society across the spectrum. It is no coincidence that there is a correlation between two of our greatest challenges – substance abuse and the economy. In a report published by the National Bureau of Economic Research earlier this year, researchers found strong evidence that economic downturns can lead to increased substance abuse, including prescription pain relievers. While we know substance abuse knows no boundaries between age, race, or social class, there is certainly a generic economic correlation.
Part of having a skilled and qualified workforce means being able to pass a routine drug test. To strengthen Virginia’s economy and attract new opportunities, we have to show that we have a sustainable labor market. In turn, we want Virginians to have access to good-paying jobs that allow for healthy and productive lives.
Delegate John O'Bannon carried HB1458 and Delegate Todd Gilbert carried HB1833 in 2015, which allows pharmacists to prescribe and law enforcement officers to carry naloxone. The legislation also provides civil immunity to those who administer naloxone to combat overdoses.
The law went into effect on April 15, 2015. The legislation provided that a person may possess and administer naloxone or another opioid antagonist used for overdose reversal to a person who is believed to be experiencing or about to experience a life-threatening opiate overdose, and that firefighters and law-enforcement officers who have completed a training program may possess and administer naloxone in accordance with protocols developed by the Board of Pharmacy. The bill also provided that a person who in good faith prescribes, dispenses, or administers naloxone or other opioid antagonist used for overdose reversal in an emergency to an individual who is believed to be experiencing or about to experience a life-threatening opioid overdose shall not be liable for any civil damages for ordinary negligence in acts or omissions resulting from the rendering of such treatment if acting in accordance with the provisions of § 54.1-3408 or in his role as a member of an emergency medical services agency.
In just the first six months of carrying naloxone in their patrol cars – from March through August of this year – Virginia Beach officers reversed 30 overdoses caused by heroin or other opiates, according to police. That’s an average of more than one a week.
If you have any questions, comments or concerns that I or my Aide, Jenna, can help assist with in any way, please do not hesitate to call me (434) 821-5929 or email at Delmfariss@house.virginia.gov. You can also keep up with me on my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/DelegateMattFariss.