"Prescription drug abuse, misuse and opiod/heroin overdose deaths represent a public health crisis across the U.S. and in the city of Martinsville and Henry County," said Dr. Jody Hershey, director of the West Piedmont Health District.

Opiods are prescription painkillers, such as hydrocodone (for example, Vicodin); oxycodone (for example, OxyContin); oxymorphone (for example, Opana); methadone (especially when prescribed for pain), according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Hershey made his comments above, and some in a related article, when asked by the Bulletin his reactions to U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine’s recently introduced legislation to, as a Kaine new release explains, help prevent opiod overdose deaths by encouraging physicians to co-prescribe the life-saving drug naloxone alongside opiod prescriptions and by making naloxone more widely available in federal health settings. The Co-prescribing Saves Lives Act will enable more health professionals to get naloxone – a safe and effective antidote to opiod overdoses – into the homes of people who are at-risk of overdose.

"In every corner of Virginia, the drug abuse epidemic is hurting families, challenging local law enforcement and leaving businesses without a capable workforce," Kaine said in the release. "A particularly heartbreaking aspect of this crisis is that many of the deaths from opiod and heroin overdoses could have been prevented. My bill would increase access to medication that can save someone’s life during an overdose and establish clear prescribing guidelines that will help get vital information about opiods to doctors and patients."

In 2014, more Virginians died from opiod overdoses than vehicle crashes. Nationwide, heroin and opiods account for approximately 25,000 American deaths per year. Naloxone, also known as Narcan, reversed more than 26,000 overdose cases between 1996 and 2014, the Kaine release said.

In March, Kaine introduced legislation to protect first responders, health professionals and family members who are educated in administering an opiod overdose prevention drug in an emergency situation of overdose. In August 2014, Kaine participated in a Project REVIVE training session in Lebanon, Va., where he learned how to administer naloxone to someone suffering from an overdose, the release said.

In the Senate, Kaine has helped lead efforts to combat the drug abuse epidemic, including introducing legislation to hold the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) accountable for the approval of new opiod drugs by ensuring experts’ voices are heard as new and potentially dangerous medications are considered for approval. In June, Kaine joined U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin to introduce legislation aimed at providing safer and more effective pain management services through the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA), the release said.

The Co-prescribing Saves Lives Act would require the secretaries of health and human services, defense and veterans affairs to establish physical education and co-prescribing guidelines for federal health settings, including Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense hospitals, Indian health service facilities and Federally-Qualified Health Centers. The bill also would authorize a program to grant state departments of health funding that would help them establish co-prescribing guidelines, purchase naloxone, and fund training for health professionals and patients, the Kaine release says.

Hershey said: "Community-based overdose education and naloxone distribution programs to increase access have demonstrated promising approaches with the potential to be scaled up and adapted to a range of settings and populations at risk for overdose from prescription opiod analgesics and heroin. They are very applicable to our communities in the city of Martinsville and Henry County."

He added: "Naloxone can be administered either through a shot or through nasal administration. Beyond its singular use in reversing overdoses, naloxone has no other effects on the body or potential for abuse. It is important to educate the public on how safe this medication is. Because naloxone is safe and easy to administer, it is an ideal component of the grassroots campaign to help people at risk of an opiate overdose. In all cases of opiod overdose, it makes intuitive sense to reduce the time it takes to administer naloxone by getting it into the hands of those best positioned to respond rapidly."

A recent study found that distributing naloxone to heroin addicts and their families could save one life for every 227 naloxone kits distributed – and one for every 36 under more optimistic calculations, Hershey said. Between 1 and 2 million Americans misuse heroin or prescription opiod drugs and could be in danger of an overdose.

"Naloxone faces obstacles such as the criminal stigmas of overdose and addiction and the difficulty of reaching active users. For some, cost is also a barrier – naloxone can run $40-$60 per dose with insurance and about $300 without insurance. In addition, some pharmacies do not stock naloxone because the demand can be relatively low," Hershey said.

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