Report: States lack plans to curb prescription-drug overdoses

Medications are now to blame for the majority of drug-related deaths.

STATESMAN WASHINGTON BUREAUOctober 8, 2013 

Prescription-drug overdose deaths have risen sharply in recent years, and a majority of states are not implementing the best strategies to curb them, according to a new report from a health care advocacy group.

The report from the Washington-based Trust for America’s Health, which was released Monday, found that 28 states — including Idaho, Alaska, Pennsylvania and Texas — and the District of Columbia had put in place six or fewer out of 10 promising strategies to lessen prescription drug overuse.

According to the report, prescription-drug deaths now surpass the number of deaths related to heroin and cocaine combined. Since 1999, overdose deaths from all kinds of drugs have at least doubled in 29 states, and in 10 of those — including South Carolina, Mississippi, Missouri and Georgia — the rate has tripled. In Kentucky, the rate has quadrupled.

“This is a very real epidemic — and warrants a strong public health response,” Andrea Gielen, the director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy, said in a statement accompanying the report’s release.

The study acknowledges that prescription-drug overdose deaths have grown so quickly that extensive research is lacking on the best ways to prevent them. Even so, a range of methods have been developed based on recommendations from medical, public health and drug prevention experts.

Florida, for example, is proof that a comprehensive approach can lead to improvement, according to the report.

By initiating a range of public health strategies and legislative changes — such as starting a prescription-drug monitoring program and closing “pill mills,” which prescribe and dispense drugs outside the usual standards of medical practice — Florida saw a decrease in prescription drug-related deaths in 2011, the report said. Deaths from oxycodone, a powerful narcotic, alone decreased by more than 17 percent.

The majority of states, though, have been slow to implement strategies.

Only two states, Vermont and New Mexico, scored 10 out of 10 on the indicators the group examined. Four states scored 9 out of 10, including Washington and Kentucky. California, Illinois and North Carolina were among the 11 states that scored 8 out of 10. Five states, including Florida, scored 7 out of 10.

Missouri and Nebraska scored 3 out of 10, and South Dakota scored the lowest, with just 2 out of 10 indicators.

The District of Columbia has legislation pending to start a program; Missouri is the only state without any at all.

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