Editorial: We must combat opioid abuse

More should be done to arrest the number of opioid overdoses in Kansas

The opioid crisis has only been getting worse in Kansas, and lawmakers are increasingly concerned about it — particularly Sen. Vicki Schmidt, pictured, a Topeka Republican who chairs the Legislature’s joint committee that oversees the state’s Medicaid system. (File photograph/The Capital-Journal)

Far too many Kansans are abusing opioids, and many of them have paid for it with their lives. According to a report released by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, opioid overdose deaths increased by 28 percent from 2013 to 2015. Over the same period of time, deaths involving psychostimulants, benzodiazepines and heroin (which is often abused as a cheap replacement for prescription drugs) surged by a staggering 71 percent.

 

According to the Kansas Tracking and Reporting of Controlled Substances database, there were 4.2 million Schedule II-IV prescriptions written and 256 million pills dispensed in our state in 2014 alone. Kansas ranks 16th in the country for the level of opioid prescriptions, and this increases the likelihood of widespread abuse. The Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services notes that “more than 75,000 patients had more than 90 morphine-milligram equivalent per day of opioid prescriptions in 2014.”

The opioid crisis has only been getting worse in Kansas, and lawmakers are increasingly concerned about it — particularly Sen. Vicki Schmidt, a Topeka Republican who chairs the Legislature’s joint committee that oversees the state’s Medicaid system. Schmidt argues that KDHE should work with the three insurance companies that administer KanCare to immediately address the opioid emergency. Mike Randol is the director of Medicaid at KDHE, and he says this project is still in a germinal phase at the agency: “I don’t have specifics. It is a program we’re wanting to develop.”

While the state could be doing more to combat opioid abuse, Gov. Sam Brownback and the Legislature deserve credit for a bill that will provide life-saving treatment to overdose victims. At the beginning of this year, Kansas was one of only three states that didn’t allow first responders to administer medications such as naloxone, which can reverse the effects of opioids and rapidly restore normal respiration to a person who has overdosed. This means victims couldn’t receive the drug until arriving at the hospital, which wasted valuable time and may have caused unnecessary deaths.

Fred Farris is a detective sergeant at the Lenexa Police Department who has witnessed the effectiveness of naloxone, and he says lives could have been saved had the legislation been passed earlier: “While not every death could have been averted, a great many could have.”

Legalizing the expanded use of naloxone was the right decision, but Farris’ sobering observation demonstrates the fact that we’ve neglected our opioid crisis for far too long. At the very least, we have to arrest the trend toward more overdose deaths, and this will require greater investment at the state and federal level. Earlier this year, KDADS received a $3.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to combat opioid abuse. This is the first of two installments under the 21st Century Cures Act, 80 percent of which will be allocated to addiction treatment and recovery, while the rest will be put toward prevention efforts.

In 2015, 33,000 Americans died from overdoses involving opioids, a number that jumped from 28,647 in 2014. Fatal overdoses have increased four-fold since 1999 and more than half a million people have lost their lives. When Schmidt says “we just need to do more” to resist this scourge, she couldn’t be any more right.

Members of The Capital-Journal’s editorial advisory board are Zach Ahrens, Matt Johnson, Ray Beers Jr., Laura Burton, Garry Cushinberry, Mike Hall, Jessica Lucas, Veronica Padilla and John Stauffer.

 

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