Regional panel on drug addiction drafts initial recommendations

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A four-month old panel aiming to stem the rise of prescription narcotic addiction and reduce overdose deaths has developed nearly a dozen initial recommendations and is probably a month away from its final report.

“We’re really in the home stretch of our work,” U.S. Attorney David Hickton said today at a meeting in his office of the Working Group on Addiction: Prevention, Intervention, Treatment and Recovery. He urged the 18 members to “sprint to a final report in early September and start acting.”

A preliminary report that was discussed, though not released, at the meeting called for:

• A strategic public relations plan including town hall meetings, media engagement, use of the Internet and social media and outreach to lawmakers.

• Overdose and relapse prevention education, especially for people leaving jails who might be at risk of returning to drugs.

• Better funded efforts to steer people who are leaving jail into addiction treatment.

• Creation of a central website with information on prevention and treatment of overdoses.

• More education on the dangers of prescription drug addiction for physicians, including efforts to hold accountable those who indiscriminately prescribe narcotics.

• Increased availability of naloxone, a medicine that can stop the overdose process and save lives.

• Better monitoring of providers of buprenorphine, a drug used to treat addicts, to make sure that patients are staying off of illicit drugs and unprescribed pills while using that medicine.

• Better treatment of addiction as a chronic disease, including smooth transitions from inpatient to outpatient rehabilitation services.

• Efforts to destigmatize the disease of drug addiction.

• Development of a regional database of overdoses.

Allegheny County associate medical examiner Ken Clark said that of the 1,138 deaths his office investigated in 2012, just over one-quarter were drug overdoses. Nearly half of those involved prescription drugs.

He said the overdose victims typically fell in either the 25-34 age range or the early 50s.

“I’ve been seeing a large wave of people over 50 coming in for the first time” for drug rehabilitation,” added Neil Capretto, medical director of Gateway Rehabilitation Center, and a co-chair of the group. He said some appear to have become hooked on pain medication and then moved on to heroin when prescriptions ran out and street pills proved too expensive.

Mr. Hickton said the death Monday of comedian and actor Robin Williams reemphasized that “for far too long, we have ignored the connection between mental health and addiction.

“I don’t think anyone would call Robin Williams a junkie,” Mr. Hickton said. “But I think we all know that he took his own life when he could not quiet his mind” after years of up-and-down struggles with mental illness and addiction.

Rich Lord: or 412-263-1542. Twitter: @richelord. First Published August 14, 2014 12:00 AM

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