FRANKFORT – On Monday, I was proud to join with Gov. Beshear and other state leaders to highlight a study showing that the General Assembly’s work to reduce prescription drug abuse in 2012 is making a significant difference.
I sponsored the law because I saw first-hand how the epidemic was killing our future, especially here in Eastern Kentucky. This work built on my earlier efforts as Attorney General to go after illegal use of these drugs and the criminals peddling them.
According to the year-long study, which was done by University of Kentucky researchers, prescription drug overdose deaths went down in 2013, the first time that had happened in six years.
Since the law’s passage, doctor shopping for excess prescription drugs has declined by half, and the wave of new pain clinics that had cropped up before the General Assembly acted are all but gone. The study found that 24 of 29 non-physician-owned pain management facilities, often called “pill mills,” have shut their doors, while the remaining ones are now properly licensed.
One of the law’s hallmarks is much greater use of the state’s prescription-drug monitoring system, which was created in the late 1990s and was one of the nation’s first to move to the internet went it went online in 2005. KASPER, as the system is known, helps doctors, pharmacists and law enforcement alike, and the number of requests it handles jumped almost 600 percent from 2011 to 2014. Doctors and pharmacists say they are now much more likely to discuss these reports with their patients, reducing the possibility of over-medicating or mixing medicines that might not be compatible.
The Kentucky Board of Medical Licensure has also ramped up enforcement as part of this law. I took this board to task in the months before the 2012 legislative session, but there appears to be much stricter oversight today, based on the study. Between July 2012 and this past March, the board took disciplinary actions against 142 physicians charged with mis-prescribing controlled substances.
While the news from this report is certainly positive, a related announcement earlier this month by the state’s Office of Drug Control Policy underscored the fact that there is no single solution to solving the state’s drug epidemic. It found that overdose deaths ticked back up in 2014 after the decline we saw in 2013. Our county, unfortunately, has been hit harder than the others on average.
Overall, there were 1,087 of these deaths last year, and the vast majority involved more than one drug. Heroin was a factor in nearly a third of the cases, but that was roughly the same level as in 2013, indicating that usage may be leveling off.
The law the General Assembly approved this year to reduce heroin use includes a mixture of additional treatment and tougher penalties, and it should go a long way in reducing the number of people who die or are injured from a drug overdose. Reaching zero in these cases may be difficult to attain, but that is the goal I will keep pursuing. We cannot afford to let the devastating effects of addiction grow.
Rep. Stumbo serves as speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives.