A group of policy-makers, health care providers, and first responders recommended that the state of Nevada create a data center with information on opioid prescriptions.
The group, which also included presentations from the Centers for Disease Control, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Science Policy, the Federal Bureau of Investigations, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and other Nevada state agencies, attended a two-day summit where they discussed prescriber guidelines, treatment options, criminal justice intervention, and data collection. They found that Nevada uses data to research trends on overprescribing and individuals who look for doctors that will write prescriptions for opioids.
The government could create a centralized data center for law enforcement and health officials to share information about opioid prescriptions easily, while abiding by privacy laws. The data collected could be used to inform policy decisions, according to the group.
They also recommended building a website where users could report concerns about drug prescription abuse.
For every 100 Nevadans, doctors write 94 painkiller prescriptions, which can lead to heroin abuse.
Gov. Brian Sandoval signed the Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act, which expanded access to naloxone, a medicine that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, and provided a level of immunity from minor drug offenses for those who call 911 when witnessing a drug overdose. Sandoval called the summit of experts for more recommendations on how to curb Nevada’s opioid epidemic.
“I am proud of what we have accomplished,” Sandoval said in a statement. “But there is more work to be done.”
Sandoval said that his office is compiling the recommendations from the summit into a report so that they can use it to help shape future policy.
“This state loses one member of the Nevada family each day due to opioid overdose,” Sandoval said in an email to MeriTalk. “No one policy or person is going to be able to meaningfully affect this dire situation. Efforts to decrease overdose death will occur through collective action and systems change.”
Joe Engle is the president of There is No Hero in Heroin, a foundation that offers education about opioid addiction and treatment. His eldest son, Reese, died of a heroin overdose in 2011. Engle said that one of the problems that drives heroin abuse is that drug companies and insurance providers don’t work together to make naloxone accessible and affordable.
Law enforcement and health care providers could work to communicate more effectively through a shared data center in order to provide solutions.
“I believe that is a good idea to start,” Engle said. “I would hope that this ‘shared’ information would not be used for punitive measures.”
The data center would be a convenient way for the state government to track opioid abusers under the guise of reducing the heroin epidemic, but Engle said that the assets of the data center should put law enforcement in the mind-set that they can help instead of jumping to arrest addicts.
Engle said that the Surgeon General identified addiction as a chronic progressive illness, which should motivate law enforcement officers to intervene and help individuals who are susceptible to drug abuse. Engle cited the Gloucester, Mass., police department’s Angel Program, which is “aimed at getting addicts the help they need, instead of putting them in handcuffs,” according to its website.
The program enables addicts to come to the police department in search of help, with the promise that they won’t be arrested, charged with a crime, or jailed even if they’re in possession of drugs or drug paraphernalia. The police department will take admitted addicts to Addison Gilbert Hospital, where they’ll be introduced to a volunteer “Angel” who will guide them through the process of treatment immediately after they arrive.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include a response from Sandoval.