Major health provider sees big opioid prescription decline

Allison Suttle, chief medical officer at Sanford Health, talks about the system's opioid prescriptions in Sioux Falls, S.D.. Sanford providers wrote 18 percent fewer prescriptions for opioids in the third quarter of 2017 compared to the first quarter of 2016.

JAMES NORD, ASSOCIATED PRESS

President Donald Trump last week declared opioid abuse a national public health emergency and announced steps to fight what he called the worst drug crisis in U.S. history.

Trump’s action will let the government redirect resources in different ways and to expand access to medical services in rural areas. It won’t automatically mean new funding to fight the drug problem.

North Dakota has been part of this national problem for some time. There was a call for action more than 18 months ago after drug-related deaths were reported in eastern North Dakota and drug issues surfaced in Bismarck. The same drugs that torment New York City are present in Bismarck-Mandan.

Opioids, which include some prescribed painkillers, heroin and synthetic drugs such as fentanyl, often are peddled on the nation's streets. They are used by all age groups and can be found among successful professionals all the way down to students. One of the things that make them so dangerous is how pervasive they have become.

Bismarck police have responded to 10 heroin overdoses this year. Police recently used Narcan for the first time to treat an overdose. Narcan, a nasal form of Naloxone, reverses opioid overdoses. Police used it to save a 47-year-old woman who was unconscious and not breathing. She was revived and declined to go to a hospital. Other local emergency responders have used Narcan, but it was the first time for Bismarck police.

One of the reasons opioid use has spread is because they are used as painkillers. The medical community has been reviewing how often they prescribe opioids and what alternatives are available. Sanford Health announced last week that it has reduced the number of prescriptions by 18 percent in the third quarter of 2017 compared to the first quarter of 2016, for a region covering North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. That amounted to 24 percent — or about 1.25 million — fewer pills prescribed.

It’s steps like this that will help get opioids out of society.

While Trump’s announcement last week drew some criticism for the lack of new funding, overall, the response was positive.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said the announcement will increase awareness about the problem. Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., feels it will "streamline and jump-start" programs aimed at preventing addiction and ensuring access to treatment. And Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said it will help expand the use of telemedicine, remote audio and video connections to health care providers for mental health and substance abuse disorders.

Gov. Doug Burgum and his wife, Kathryn Helgaas Burgum, who recently held the Recovery Reinvented conference that looked at various addiction issues, were pleased by Trump’s announcement.

It will take efforts like Recovery Reinvented along with other community involvement to help stem the tide of drugs. Members of the community who encounter people dealing with drug issues can play a big role in helping them into recovery.

We can’t spend our way out of this drug crisis. However, funding will be needed for a variety of programs. That money may have to come from the state and local level where many programs may originate. This fight against drugs will take time and the commitment of many people. The road to recovery likely will be a long one.

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