Congress tackles the opioid epidemic. But how much will it help?

The nation’s opioid epidemic has been called today’s version of the 1980s AIDS crisis. In a speech Monday, President Donald Trump pushed for a tougher federal response, emphasizing a tough-on-crime approach for drug dealers and more funding for treatment. And Congress is upping the ante, via a series of hearings — including one scheduled to last Wednesday through Thursday — to study legislation that might tackle the unyielding scourge, which has cost an estimated $1 trillion in premature deaths, health care costs and lost wages since 2001. Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician by training and the health commissioner for hard-hit Baltimore, said Capitol Hill has to help communities at risk of becoming overwhelmed. “We haven’t seen the peak of the epidemic.

Pharmacists slow to dispense lifesaving overdose drug

Gale Dunham, a pharmacist in Calistoga, Calif., knows the devastation the opioid epidemic has wrought, and she is glad the anti-overdose drug naloxone is becoming more accessible. But so far, Dunham said, she has not taken advantage of a California law that allows pharmacists to dispense the medication to patients without a doctor’s prescription. She said she plans to take the training required at some point but has not yet seen much demand for the drug. “I don’t think people who are heroin addicts or taking a lot of opioids think that they need it,” Dunham said. “Here, nobody comes and asks for it.”

In the three years since the California law took effect, pharmacists have been slow to dispense naloxone, which reverses the effects of an overdose.

‘Extreme’ use of painkillers and doctor shopping plague Medicare, new report says

In Washington, D.C., a Medicare beneficiary filled prescriptions for 2,330 pills of oxycodone, hydromorphone and morphine in a single month last year — written by just one of the 42 health providers who prescribed the person such drugs. In Illinois, a different Medicare enrollee received 73 prescriptions for opioid drugs from 11 prescribers and filled them at 20 different pharmacies. He sometimes filled prescriptions at multiple pharmacies on the same day. These are among the examples cited in a sobering new report released today by the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The IG found that heavy painkiller use and abuse remains a serious problem in Medicare’s prescription drug program, known as Part D, which serves more than 43 million seniors and disabled people.

Committee votes to stop workers comp for medical marijuana

The House Judiciary voted along party lines on Wednesday to pass a bill that would stop the state requirement that employers reimburse costs for medical marijuana through worker’s compensation. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Randal Crowder, R-Clovis, told the committee he was concerned that insurance companies may leave the state out of fear of being charged with breaking federal law. “That’s my greatest fear,” Crowder said. Medical cannabis is legal under state law in 23 states, including New Mexico, and the District of Columbia. Gregory Vialpando, who was at the center of a court of appeals case regarding workers compensation and medical marijuana, spoke out in opposition to the bill.

NM among top in nation for opioid overdoses among young people

The rate of young people overdosing in New Mexico is among the top in the nation and doubled in a decade according to a recent report. The report by Trust for America’s Health, reported on by Governing, found that 12.5 out of every 100,000 New Mexicans from ages 12 to 25 overdosed in 2011 to 2013. That was an increase from 6.1 out of every 100,000 from 1999 to 2003. New Mexico is one of just three states with a rate of 12 overdoses among 100,000 young people; the other two are Utah (12.1 per 100,000) and West Virginia (12.6 per 100,000). Another recent study had found that opioid overdose and abuse rates have begun to go down in New Mexico. That study was conducted from November 2012 to June 2014.

Advocates encouraged by White House movement on opioids

The White House rolled out a new way of dealing with opioid addiction and prescription this week with the president appearing in Charleston, West Virginia on Wednesday to discuss the efforts. The move is the latest in an ambitious set of second-term moves by the President Barack Obama. As Huffington Post reported, it downplays abstinence in favor of medication-assisted treatment, in an effort to curb the growing epidemic of opioid addiction and overdoses nationwide. New Mexico has had a massive problem with opioid overdoses. A study by the New Mexico Department of Health released this summer found that overdose deaths in New Mexico reached a new high in 2014.