Prescription for disaster: Louisiana’s opioid epidemic

Baton Rouge Business Report - Every time RoyOMartin has to replace an employee, it shells out at least $25,000 to hire and train someone new. And in recent years, the Alexandria-based lumber company has increasingly spent more to replace lost workers as a national epidemic has infiltrated the Louisiana workforce, driving up turnover and absenteeism rates, while decreasing productivity.

President and CEO Roy O. Martin III decided last fall that he had to speak out. Along with the company’s medical director, Martin penned a letter to physicians in central Louisiana, pleading with them for help.

“Over the years, we have had several employees who never returned to work after a surgery because of prescription drug dependency,” Martin wrote, asking doctors to heed the medical director’s recommendation and limit painkiller prescriptions. “I hope we can work collectively to stem the growth of the opioid epidemic.”

Hurdles added to prevent ‘doctor shopping’ for opioid drugs

The Courier - Hoping to stop people from “doctor shopping” for highly addictive painkillers, Louisiana lawmakers have ordered physicians to consult a statewide prescription monitoring program before prescribing opioid drugs.

The Senate on Friday unanimously approved minor changes the House had made to Sen. Fred Mills’ bill and sent the legislation to Gov. John Bel Edwards’ desk. Edwards has publicly supported the measure, which he hopes will help fight the country’s opioid epidemic.

The monitoring program already exists, but doctors had not previously been required to use it. Under the bill, physicians still will not have to access the system if they are writing a prescription for seven days or less, or if the patient is in the hospital.

Pain pill prescriptions to drop from 30 days to 7 under bill

The Advocate - Louisiana patients who need short-term pain relief will soon stop receiving month-long prescriptions of highly addictive opioid drugs.

The House unanimously Thursday approved Rep. Helena Moreno's proposal to limit first-time prescriptions for acute pain to seven days. The limit is currently 30 days.

The bill, which doesn't apply to chronic conditions, heads to Gov. John Bel Edwards' desk. The governor supports the bill, which he hopes will help combat the country's opioid crisis.

Painful words: How a 1980 letter fueled the opioid epidemic

Beauregard Daily News - Nearly 40 years ago, a respected doctor wrote a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine with some very good news: Out of nearly 40,000 patients given powerful pain drugs in a Boston hospital, only four addictions were documented.

Doctors had been wary of opioids, fearing patients would get hooked. Reassured by the letter, which called this “rare” in those with no history of addiction, they pulled out their prescription pads and spread the good news in their own published reports.

And that is how a one-paragraph letter with no supporting information helped seed a nationwide epidemic of misuse of drugs like Vicodin and OxyContin by convincing doctors that opioids were safer than we now know them to be.

In opioid crisis, a new risk for police: accidental overdose

Beauregard Daily News - As Cpl. Kevin Phillips pulled up to investigate a suspected opioid overdose, paramedics were already at the Maryland home giving a man a life-saving dose of the overdose reversal drug Narcan. Drugs were easy to find: a package of heroin on the railing leading to a basement; another batch on a shelf above a nightstand.

The deputy already had put on gloves and grabbed evidence baggies, his usual routine for canvassing a house. He swept the first package from the railing into a bag and sealed it; then a torn Crayola crayon box went from the nightstand into a bag of its own. Inside that basement nightstand: even more bags, but nothing that looked like drugs.

Then ” moments after the man being treated by paramedics came to ” the overdose hit.

Louisiana takes one step forward in opioid battle

The Town Talk - Attorney General Jeff Landry’s initiative to get Naloxone doses into the hands of Louisiana’s first responders is unique in the U.S., one state lawmaker says.

It could also prove to be a lifesaver in a state that has experienced a rapid increase in the number of opioid overdose deaths.

Naloxone is a prescription medication that counteracts opioid’s effects, the attorney general said in a recent appearance in Lafayette. It’s especially useful at drug overdose scenes.

Free overdose treatments available to La. first responders

New Orleans City Business - Attorney General Jeff Landry’s office has negotiated a $1 million drug company settlement that he says will make an opioid overdose treatment available for free to first responders around Louisiana.

Single doses of the overdose antidote naloxone will be provided to first responders who request them. The agencies requesting the overdose treatment will receive vouchers that can be redeemed for the medication at local pharmacies at no cost.

Pfizer will provide the $1 million in naloxone treatment vouchers as part of a settlement it negotiated with Landry’s office to end a dispute over drug prices and competition.

Gray Death an extremely dangerous drug

WWLTV - More than 50,000 people died in 2015 from drug overdoses. It's fueled by a powerful heroin mixture that's been on the streets. Now a new one is showing up on the Gulf Coast and in Louisiana, and that has drug law enforcement officials extremely concerned.

"We are in an epidemic in this country. Ninety-one people a day are OD'ing and dying as a result of heroin and opioids. That's alarming. That's scary," said Stephen Azzam, the Special Agent in Charge of the DEA, New Orleans Field Division.

He says the drug epidemic and death rate is being fueled by heroin that is mixed with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is 50 times stronger than heroin. It's so powerful, that officers, both human and canine who just accidentally touch, or inhale fentanyl on a raid, are being rushed to hospitals. If the more than 50,000 people who are dying each year in this epidemic is not scary enough, now comes a new opioid cocktail called Gray Death.


Victory in opioid abuse fight

American Press - A recent settlement involving the pharmaceutical company Pfizer will provide law enforcement and fire departments statewide with a product that could aid in preventing opioid overdoses and protect officers during drug searches.

Within the next 30-60 days, law enforcement agencies should be able to apply for a voucher to get vials of the anti-opiate medication Naloxone, Attorney General Jeff Landry said during a press conference Monday. He said the settlement provided $1 million for the agencies to get vouchers for the medication. 

Each voucher, developed by the Louisiana Department of Justice, will be good for 10 dosages of Naloxone that can be filled be a local pharmacy. Law enforcement can request additional vouchers as they need them. 

State to receive $1 million worth of drug used to treat opioid overdose

The Advocate - More than 60,000 doses of an opioid overdose antidote will be available to first responders in Louisiana as part of a settlement in a state lawsuit against drug maker Pfizer, the state Attorney General's Office announced Monday.

Pfizer will provide $1 million worth of the drug naloxone at wholesale cost, and law enforcement agencies and fire departments can apply for vouchers that can be redeemed at local pharmacies.

"We believe that these vials are priceless," said state Attorney General Jeff Landry, who made the announcement Monday morning at a news conference in Lafayette.

Louisiana lawmakers band together to fight opioid crisis

The Times-Picayune - Louisiana Rep. Helena Moreno never went to medical school. But that didn't stop public health official Dr. Karen DeSalvo from mistaking the New Orleans Democrat for a physician during a recent committee hearing by addressing her as "Dr. Moreno."

DeSalvo immediately realized her mistake as Moreno, a real estate agent, threw her head back in laughter. Still, she didn't retract the title.

"She deserves it," DeSalvo said, praising the legislator's efforts to prevent accidental opioid overdoses.

Heroin epidemic pushing up hepatitis C infections in US

Beauregard Daily News - The heroin epidemic is driving up hepatitis C infections, with the biggest increase in people in their 20s, U.S. health officials said Thursday.

The number of new infections nearly tripled in five years, to about 2,400 in 2015. The virus is spread by sharing needles to inject drugs, and the increase coincided with a surge in heroin use.

But officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention think the reported infections are only a fraction of the actual number. Most people don’t get sick for many years, so they aren’t tested and don’t know they are infected. The CDC estimates that the number of infections in 2015 was 34,000, or twice as many as the estimate for 2010.

Hurt workers to have tougher time getting opioids under bill

The Courier - Hoping to prevent fatal overdoses, a House committee passed a bill to make it harder for injured Louisiana workers to access highly-addictive opioid drugs.

Lawmakers voted 8-5 Thursday to have prescribers consult a widely-used formulary before writing a prescription for patients with workers’ compensation insurance. Doctors would need preauthorization to prescribe drugs the formulary labels “non-preferred drugs,” including many opioids.

Slidell resident gets grant to put opioid overdose medicine in schools

The Advocate - Covington Police Chief Tim Lentz calls Narcan a miracle drug in the fight against opioid overdose deaths.

"It immediately reverses the effect of the drugs," Lentz said. "Usually within minutes, they (a drug user) are conscious and talking."

Lentz is such a believer that he has equipped all his officers with the drug, which is delivered via a nasal spray.

LA lawmakers consider painkiller Rx limit to combat opioid epidemic

WVUE - State lawmakers believe they have found a way to stop the opioid epidemic at one of the sources, but not everyone is on board. 

"We have more prescriptions for opioids in the state of Louisiana than we have people. There is clearly a problem," said Rep. Helena Moreno. 

The latest numbers from the Centers for Disease Control show in 2015, deaths from prescription painkillers, heroin and fentanyl reached more than 33,000 in the U.S., which was more than any year on record. 

Leges take on opioid epidemic

The Independent - House Bill 192, by Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans, would prevent doctors from issuing first-time opioid prescriptions for acute pain for longer than one week. After seven days, patients would have to request a new prescription.

Doctors would also have to discuss the risks of opioid medications with their patients and give them the option to reduce the length of the prescription, under the proposed law.

“There are more prescriptions for opioids in Louisiana than there are people,” saied Moreno. “This has become an epidemic.”

Legislature advances bill to limit opioid prescriptions, others to address opioid 'epidemic'

The Advocate - State lawmakers are advancing legislation that takes aim at Louisiana's escalating opioid epidemic.

The House Health and Welfare Committee on Wednesday unanimously agreed to send legislation that would limit most first-time opioid prescriptions to a seven-day supply, and lawmakers took a step toward establishing an advisory panel to help coordinate the state's prevention and education efforts in response to the drug.

"We've done a lot of work over the past several years to address this crisis," said state Rep. Helena Moreno, a New Orleans Democrat who is sponsoring the prescription-limiting House Bill 192. "Obviously, a lot more needs to be done."

FDA further restricts pain medication use in kids

WVUE - U.S. regulators are strengthening warnings about the dangers of two types of powerful painkillers due to risks of slowed breathing and death.

The Food and Drug Administration said Thursday it is requiring makers of prescription versions of the medicines, codeine and tramadol, to change the products' labels to warn against giving them to children under age 12, and to limit use in older children. The FDA also said breastfeeding women shouldn't take them because of possible harm to the baby.

Many of the products containing these drugs are only available by prescription, but several over-the-counter cough medicines contain codeine. The FDA urged parents to carefully read labels of nonprescription cough medicines to avoid codeine and to consult a doctor or pharmacist if needed.

Mills' bills on opioids, health professional licensing boards clear committee

The Independent - Sen. Fred Mills won approval for two bills on Wednesday from the Senate Health and Welfare Committee,which he chairs.

SB55 seeks to put Louisiana’s prescription monitoring program to work in combating the surge in opioid abuse in the state. SB75 would reform the operation of the 25 state health professional licensing boards that exist in the Louisiana Department of Health, including adding consumer representation to each of them.

Louisiana to receive $8.1M to help combat opioid addiction

The Advocate - Louisiana is in line to receive $8.1 million from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to help combat the opioid epidemic.

The grant is part of $485 million the federal government has set aside to help states and territories with prevention, treatment and recovery services needs.

"We cannot continue to lose our nation’s citizens to addiction," U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said in a letter to governors announcing the awards. "Through a sustained focus on people, patients, and partnerships, I am confident that together we can turn the tide on this public health crisis."