Each day, 78 people die from an opioid-related overdose, translating to 30,000 fatalities each year. A discussion with Matt Chase, Executive Director of the National Association of Counties on efforts address the issue by the National City-County Task Force on the Opioid Epidemic.
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Traynham: According to the Department of Health and Human Services, on an average day in this country, more than 650,000 opiate prescriptions are dispensed and nearly 3,900 people initiate non-medical use of these drugs. Each day, unfortunately, 78 people die from an opioid-related overdose. Hello, everyone, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Robert Traynham, and joining me is Matt Chase. He's the Executive Director of the National Association of Counties. -Matt, welcome to the program. -
Chase: Thank you, Robert.
Traynham: Let's define what an opioid prescription is. Is that OxyContin? Is that Percocet? Is that Vicodin, as most people would know it as?
Chase: It's all of the above. So, the word "opiate" comes from the plant opium. And when you use the term "opioid," that's the overall category of a pain medication.
Traynham: You just said it, and it's a pain medication, so, understandably, most physicians do not want to do any harm. They want to make sure that the patient is comfortable. So, after a surgery, after some type of major medical incident, if you will, that's the natural thing, perhaps, maybe to give someone.
Chase: Correct, and we also have some federal-policy issues that really get towards our Medicaid reimbursement rates, where doctors have an incentive to reduce the pain for their patients.
Traynham: Oh, interesting.
Chase: But right now the doctors are prescribing 259 million pain medications a year. That's enough for each individual, each adult across this country.
Traynham: So, based on the numbers that you just said and what I said a few moments ago, clearly, we have an epidemic on our hands.
Chase: It's a huge epidemic. These 78 deaths translate into 30,000 fatalities a year. It's the number-one cause of accidental death in the United States, surpassing traffic fatalities. So it is the number-one cause of accidental death.
Traynham: How do we fix this?
Chase: Well, we have a three-prong approach. The National Association of Counties and the National League of Cities have a task force of 24 experts who are former sheriffs, they're law enforcement, police chiefs, public defenders, treatment experts. We're focusing on three things -- treatment, prevention, and public safety.
Traynham: I hate to say this, but are the doctors to blame here to a certain degree?
Chase: Well, I wouldn't say they're to blame. Right now in the medical schools, there isn't proper education. The American Medical Association and others are really looking at this. They're starting to give training for their doctors, the dentists, and the pharmacists. And, of course, we have to do public awareness. We got to make sure the patients are armed with the information they need when they go in to see a doctor.
Traynham: Matt, let's hypothetically speak to the person at home or perhaps watching this on their smart device and they're living with someone or perhaps they know someone who is taking some pain medication, and their gut reaction is that they probably should not be taking this medication. What should that loved one do?
Chase: There's a couple of things. The first thing is to get -- properly dispose of the medication. Typically, the medications will be prescribed for 30 days, where you may need 5 to 7 days. When you're done with that prescription, bring it to your local police department or Walgreens and a host of other -- You can look up online where you can dispose of it properly. Don't flush it down the toilet. There's some issues with that.
Traynham: Can you explain that for a moment? Because I think that's a common thing that most people do is just flush it down the toilet.
Chase: Well, these are chemicals. So, once they mix into the water system, different chemicals react differently.
Traynham: I see. You know, what's also interesting about all of this is the prevention part that I think you alluded to a few moments ago. Can you elaborate a little bit more on that?
Chase: Yeah. So, right now, the number-one treatment facility for folks who have overdosed or have substance abuse are county jails. We're seeing about 11 million to 12 million individuals a year in our county jail, 8.5 individuals, 11 million admissions. About 60% of those individuals have substance abuse, and typically 20% to 40% have mental health. So, you combine the mental-health issues with co-occurring substance abuse, and that is not the proper setting for treatment. We need to invest with the public sector -- both the states, the federal government, and the counties -- in treatment facilities. But more importantly, we need community-based -- get these folks in the community and not locked up for treatment.
Traynham: Matt, we've got about 30 seconds left. I mentioned the loved one that perhaps is watching this program. What if someone's watching this program and they think they may have a problem but they don't know where to turn? What about that person that's watching?
Chase: I would encourage them to call their county health department. We have a whole host of services --
Traynham: Is that safe? Is that confidential?
Chase: That is safe, and it's confidential. We also have nonprofit partners across the country who have the same privacy rules. But they need to get help. To get off of these medications is incredibly painful. It literally hurts the body, and it takes a long time. So it's not something you can typically do on your own. You need professional help.
Traynham: And I think the message, Matt Chase, is that for those of you who are watching this program at home or if, in fact, you have a loved one, you're not alone. You can beat this. There is help, as Matt mentioned a few moments ago, to see you through this. Matt, thank you very much for joining us. Keep up the great work, and thank you very much for the awareness. And thank you for joining us for this edition of "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Robert Traynham. Have a great day. We'll see you next time. Bye-bye.