Opioid addiction continues to get legislative attention

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This is one in a series of stories produced by students taking a state government reporting class at the University of Mississippi’s Meek School of Journalism and New Media. The class is led by Mississippi Today co-editor Fred Anklam Jr. and Meek school journalism professor LaReeca Rucker. 

JACKSON — Last May, Mississippi received $3.58 million in federal funding to combat opioid addiction and overdose in the state.

This allows the state to expand access to treatment, create programs of prevention, and provide training for healthcare professionals.

In a private interview with University of Mississippi Press reporters in the Capitol, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves touted that taking steps to address the crisis.

Fred Anklam Jr., Mississippi Today

Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves responds to a question posed by Ole Miss journalism student Terrence Johnson.

“Last year, we passed legislation for any emergency responder to get Narcan without a prescription. Once you have Narcan, it can reduce the amount of deaths,” said Reeves.

Narcan is an opioid antagonist. It binds to the receptors of opioid to reverse and block the effects of other opioids within the human system.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, Narcan has saved almost 27,000 lives and Narcan kits have been provided to more than 150,000 people in the United States.

The grant awarded to the state allows collaborative efforts with state agencies such as the Department of Public Safety, the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics, and the Mississippi Board of Pharmacy.

“The problem with opioids is once you get hooked, it’s really hard to get un-hooked,” said Reeves.

Reeves described how opioids are a common topic for legislators.

“We created pilot mental health courts in our state,” said Reeves. “We think if we can create certain jurisdictions for mental health courts, it would allow judicial involvement in helping people rehab.”

In 2015, opioids caused more than 33,000 deaths in the United States according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). According to the Mississippi Department of Health, many accidental overdose deaths in Mississippi come from high-level opioid painkillers.

These painkillers are used to reduce pain in the back and other areas of the body. Usually, opioids can only be obtained through prescription from a medical physician.

“We use our prescription drug monitoring system so that doctors know who’s getting opioids,” said Reeves. “We are reducing the amount of doctor shopping that is going on because we see a lot of that.”

Doctor shopping is defined as seeing multiple treatment providers for prescriptions during a single illness episode or to receiving prescription medications illicitly across state lines.

Reeves says that the epidemic will continue to be a topic during the coming legislative session.