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Prescription Overdoses Decline as Heroin Overdoses Increase

Multiple agencies such as the state Department of Social and Health Services, the state Department of Labor and Industries, the State Department of Health, and the Washington State Health Care Authority have stated that in the last few years there have been less death from prescription opiate use. While this may seem encouraging to many, there has also been an increase in the amount of deaths from heroin overdoses, with many correlating the two as those with prescriptions make the change to street drugs.

In 2008, the deaths from prescription overdoses numbered at 512 people, a number that dropped sharply to 319 by 2014. However, in the same time period the amount of heroin overdoses doubled from 140 to 293. Overall, there are over six hundred people that are dying from opioid deaths in the state of Washington, with heroin deaths being more common between the ages of 25-34 and prescription opioid deaths being more common between the ages of 45-54. In general, abuse of opiates in any form continues to be a problem for many counties regardless of what form of opiates an addict is using.

Lewis County is one of the counties that has seen their rates of overdoses stay static, with no overall increase in heroin overdoses. In the last four years they have only seen 33 deaths by overdoses, with ten from methamphetamine, four from heroin abuse, one from morphine, and the other sixteen from different prescription drugs. While they haven't seen the numbers shifting in any specific direction, they are concerned about the opiate epidemic overall and support a change.

The four agencies mentioned above have been meeting to address these concerns, inviting public health officials, health care providers and experts in substance abuse to brainstorming sessions. Their intention is to create a statewide plan that will respond to and address the growing crisis. With two meetings held with different stakeholders, the going is slow, but the plan is already divided into four different working sections.

The first section is devoted to the prevention of opioid misuse in the first place, using education measures to spread information. This section also will be addressing safe prescribing methods, and safety protocols about offering medication when it is not needed. They are encouraging that doctors think twice about prescribing opiates as well as offering the lowest effective doses of narcotics possible. This step is crucial as many people who become addicted to opiates were first prescribed narcotics for chronic pain or surgery.

The second section of the plan includes treating those who have an addiction to opioids while increasing recovery options, the third involves preventing overdoses deaths through a variety of methods, and the fourth involves data monitoring to ensure that these efforts are working as they are designed to. This plan will hopefully go into effect in the next month or two, if the planning stages go well. Washington state has put aside six million dollars to fund different treatment options for those who are addicted to opioids, and will have an additional three million to use towards providing this treatment.


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