Kentucky is among the many states considered by the National Safety Council to be “lagging” in handling the opioid crisis. 

The research shows 13 states and the District of Columbia have implemented comprehensive, proven actions to eliminate opioid overdoses and help protect their residents.

“We were disappointed by the report,” said Dr. Allen Brenzel, M.D. medical director of the state’s Department of Behavioral Health, Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities (BHDID).

Brenzel said the state is working to address the epidemic and is focusing on four areas — prevention, treatment access, recovery support and harm reduction.

“It is all hands on deck,” he said. “We’ve been coordinating with multiple departments.”

Officials said the state has used recent federal funding to support nearly 50 different initiatives in the four focus areas.

Brenzel added those initiatives will be funded for two years through both rounds of federal grants, which became available after Congress passed the 21st Century Cures Act that authorized $1 billion in federal assistance to states to boost their efforts to address opioid abuse and addiction.

After comprehensive evaluations of data and prevention strategies, the National Safety Council identified six key actions that could have immediate and sustained impact addressing the opioid epidemic.

The report notes Kentucky meets the mark in four —prescriber education, opioid prescribing guidelines, integrating prescription drug monitoring programs into clinical settings and treating opioid overdose. It did not receive marks for data collection and sharing, or increasing the availability of opioid use disorder treatment.

Ben Chandler, president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, said there are indicators of progress in state, pointing to the latest Kentucky Health Issues Poll which shows the number of prescriptions for opioids are down in the state.

“About half of the Kentucky adults we asked in 2011 said they had been prescribed a prescription pain reliever in the prior five years; that dropped to about one-third when we asked the question again last fall,” he said. “The percentage of Kentucky adults who reported knowing someone who had faced problems from an addiction to prescription pain medication also dropped, from about one in three to one in four from 2011 to 2017. These are indicators of some progress.”

Both state officials and Chandler said the process of addressing the opioid epidemic won’t be quick or easy.

“We talk all the time that we won’t see the full benefit for years to come,” said Van Ingram, executive director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control. “If there was a quick fix, we’d have done it now.”

Working to fix the drug epidemic is not only a work in progress in Kentucky, but across the United States.

The highest marks were given to Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Washington, D.C., Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, Virginia and West Virginia.

Eight states, however, received a failing mark — Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon and Wyoming. 

“While we see some states improving, we still have too many that need to wake up to this crisis,” said Deborah A.P. Hersman, president and CEO of the National Safety Council. “For the last five years, the Council has released Prescription Nation reports to provide a roadmap for saving lives across the country. We hope states adopt the recommended actions laid out here so we can eliminate preventable opioid deaths and stop an everyday killer.”

For more information on the report, visit nsc.org.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first part of “Addressing A Crisis”, which looks at what the state of Kentucky is doing to address the drug epidemic.

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