With increasing drug overdoses, leaders are taking action


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PHOENIX – The United States comes from checked in its highest number of overdose deaths ever in 12 months – a grim milestone that highlights the weight of the coronavirus pandemic on the protracted opioid epidemic, as well as the need for additional solutions.

At the federal and state levels, policymakers are proposing increased funding for the prevention of substance use and better access to drug treatments. In the meantime, advocates on the ground are calling for more investment in overdose prevention strategies.

President Joe Biden calls on Congress for $ 10.7 billion to support medical treatment, research and other behavioral health care providers, with a focus on helping Native Americans, the elderly and populations rural.

In March, Biden signed a law measured appropriate nearly $ 4 billion to expand access to behavioral health services, strengthen overdose prevention efforts, and advance racial equity in drug policy approach. Biden also said people shouldn’t be jailed for drug use, but instead offered treatment.

The measures come as preliminary statistics indicate that “2020 will be the worst year for opioid overdoses we’ve ever had,” said Michael Barnett, assistant professor of health policy and management at Harvard University.

“The COVID-19 pandemic in the United States is not just about COVID-19, it’s about managing all the ripple effects, including the effects it has had on people with drug addiction and drug addiction, ”Barnett said in a Publish on the Harvard School of Public Health website.

“Sadly, it appears that we have lost a lot of the progress we made on opioid overdoses in recent years due to the pandemic.”

Here are some suggestions to address the setbacks:

Fight fentanyl

Synthetic opioids, particularly fentanyl, are largely reproach for peak overdose deaths, several proposals therefore target this pain medication, which is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and potentially fatal in even tiny amounts. Fentanyl is often used in combination with other medicines, and people may not know it.

Measures pending in Congress would permanently criminalize fentanyl-like drugs as Schedule I controlled substances, alongside heroin, LSD and others, meaning they have a high potential for abuse and no medical use accepted. These analog drugs are made in a lab to produce the same effects as natural opioids.

In 2018, the Drug Enforcement Administration temporarily scheduled fentanyl analogues as controlled substances, and Congress last year expanded this. But the measure expires on May 6; these proposals would make the change permanent.

American Civil Liberties Union and other advocacy groups urged leaders to reject the permanent classification, saying the move would strengthen an “enforcement-first response to a public health challenge” and worsen racial disparities in mass incarceration.

Beyond these measures, other proposals concern the regulation and distribution of fentanyl test strips, which advocates say can help reduce overdose deaths.

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The test strips identify the presence of fentanyl in injectables, powders and pills. Each single-use strip is soaked in water with drug residue, and a minute later, red lines appear – one line means the fluid contains fentanyl and two does not.

On April 7, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration ad this federal money can be used to quickly purchase fentanyl test strips. The change applies to all federal grant programs as long as the purchase of the tapes is consistent with the objective of the program.

“The increase in overdose deaths linked to synthetic opioids, such as illicitly manufactured fentanyl, is a public health crisis that requires immediate action and new strategies,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said, announcing the change. “National and local programs now have yet another tool to add to their efforts on the ground to reduce and prevent overdoses, particularly fentanyl-related overdose deaths.”

Some state legislatures have acted to legalize fentanyl test strips, which are often banned under drug paraphernalia laws, according to the Minnesota-based Network for Public Health Law.

A measurement waiting in the Arizona Legislature, which concludes its session on April 30, would legalize the use of test strips. The effort was led by State Senator Christine Marsh, D-Phoenix, whose 25-year-old son Landon died last May after taking medication containing fentanyl.

“I don’t know if a fentanyl test strip could have saved my son’s life, but I know we have a chance to save other lives and other families from going through the heartbreaking heartbreak I know too well. “, Wrote Marsh in January. column in the Arizona Mirror.

Needle exchanges

Syringe distribution programs so that users do not use dirty needles and spread infection are hardly new, but 19 states still have not authorized syringe programs, according to a March. report by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

For several years now, proposals to legalize needle exchange programs have died in the Arizona legislature. Another bill awaited final approval in the House as the session drew to a close.

The programs allow people who inject drugs to swap dirty needles for clean needles, preventing the spread of infectious diseases like HIV and hepatitis C. The CDC reports that 44 statespeople, including Arizona, are experiencing or are at risk of experiencing a significant increase in hepatitis or HIV outbreaks as a result of injecting drug use.

CDC Highlights Research That Shows New Users Of Needle Service Programs Five Times More Likely To Be In Drug Treatment And Three Times More Likely To Stop Using Drugs Than Those Who Don’t Use The Programs .

Programs can also reduce overdose deaths by training people who inject drugs on how to recognize, respond to and prevent a drug overdose using naloxone, a drug used to reverse overdose.

Biden said it wishes to provide increased financial support for these programs and remove the barriers limiting access.

More Narcan for more people

Access to drugs that can stop an opioid overdose increases in the 2000s, as the epidemic worsened, it is now commonly used by police, paramedics and emergency room doctors.

Amid mounting overdoses over the past year, there is pressure underway in some states to get the drug into the hands of more people.

Naloxone, often referred to by the brand name Narcan, is a temporary treatment that can reverse and block the effects of opioids, including heroin, morphine, and oxycodone. It can be injected into a muscle, vein, or under the skin, or sprayed into the nose.

Researchers at Bench claim that all states in the United States have at least one law in place to expand access to naloxone, but not all of them provide laymen with easy access to the drug. United States General surgeon and experts from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration are among those who stress the importance of access to naloxone in reducing overdoses.

The proposals include everything from distributing the drug to people on release from prison or treating drug addiction to enacting laws that eliminate the need for a doctor to prescribe naloxone. (In Arizona, the state health department has a order allow anyone to buy naloxone from any drugstore in the state without a prescription.)

New York last year expanded legal protections for restaurants, bars, malls, beauty salons, theaters, hotels and retail establishments so that they can own and use naloxone without fear of penalties.

“Opioid-related overdose deaths occur frequently in public spaces. Yet many of these public spaces have restricted the administration of naloxone to their premises due to fear that they may not be covered “by” Good Samaritan “laws, a press release from the governor’s office said. Andrew Cuomo.

Some law enforcement agencies, including the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office in Florence, provide Narcan to the public free of charge. The Department ad the decision after nearly 600 people in the county died of a suspected opioid overdose between early April 2020 and late November.

“If you or a loved one uses opioids, Narcan is now available… during regular business hours, no questions are asked,” the department said.

No more medical treatment

Earlier this year, a group of U.S. senators presented a bill this would increase funding for the fight against the opioid epidemic through education, treatment and prevention.

The measure passed by Congress would prohibit states from requiring prior authorization for medical treatment on Medicaid and would permanently allow providers to prescribe such treatment without a prior in-person visit.

The bill would also allow doctors to treat an unlimited number of patients with buprenorphine, a drug that treats opioid addiction.

In the past, providers wishing to prescribe buprenorphine had to first complete training, notify the federal government, and receive a practitioner waiver. This policy has recently been relaxed to allow prescriptions for up to 30 patients with no training requirement. The measure pending in Congress would go even further.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has created unprecedented challenges, and we are now witnessing another heartbreaking outbreak of overdose deaths. That is why we must redouble our efforts to fight drug addiction and help those who are suffering during this crisis, ”said Senator Rob Portman, R-Ohio, in announcing the bill.

“In the new Congress, we have a unique opportunity to work together in a bipartisan fashion,” said Portman, “and I believe (this bill) can help us make a real difference in the fight against this epidemic.”

Editor’s Note: If you or someone you know needs help solving a drug use problem, National telephone support – 1-800-662-HELP (4357) – is a confidential, free 24/7 information service in English and Spanish. SAMHSA Buprenorphine practitioner locator can help identify a qualified practitioner who can prescribe buprenorphine for the treatment of opioid use.

Copyright 2021 Cronkite News / Arizona Board of Regents. All rights reserved.

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