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The opioid epidemic is considered the deadliest drug crisis in U.S. history. The Trump Administration recently declared a public health emergency to deal with the epidemic. In Nevada, opioid overdoses were the leading cause of drug-related deaths in 2015. According to the National Vital Statistics System, 619 Nevadans died of a drug overdose that year and 68% of those deaths were from opioids.In this series, Reno Public Radio’s health reporter Anh Gray tours a treatment facility, and talks with substance abuse experts, patients and others to get the scope of the problem and explore some solutions.

What Nevada Is Doing About The Opioid Epidemic

Governor Brian Sandoval’s opioid accountability task force met this fall to figure out solutions to the state’s drug crisis. And Nevada lawmakers have been trying to figure out solutions to the epidemic.

Reno Public Radio’s Anh Gray checks in with Michelle Rindels, a political reporter for The Nevada Independent, to learn about the steps the state have taken to combat the epidemic. Rindels has covered the opioid crisis and says there have been inconsistent data on drug overdoses in Nevada since various medical professionals had different ways of recording opioid overdose cases.

“Reporting is not the best, and someone in a hospital might categorize something as an overdose and someone might not, so you don’t always have the best idea,” Rindels explains. “Another important part of it was getting coroners to report this stuff to the state when they encountered an opioid overdose—just so the state has more accurate information.”

In 2015, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 619 drug overdose cases in Nevada. Nearly 70 percent of those deaths were from opioids.

The state has taken legislative steps to improve tracking. Last spring, Nevada lawmakers passed AB 474. This new law now requires healthcare providers to report an overdose or suspected overdose case.

State lawmakers also passed another bill—SB459— to crack down on overprescription. Before prescribing opioids, providers are required to check the state’s Prescription Monitoring Program database and review a patient’s prescription history. The database has been around for about 20 years, and has been used in the past to prevent patients from “doctor shopping” in an attempt to stockpile medication from numerous prescribers. Rindels explains that the new law will now enable the state to flag doctors that overprescribe pain medication.

“Now, how the law is going to be used is also on the other end of the calculation,” Rindels says. “Boards that license the doctors are going to be more closely monitoring this prescription drug database and see whether doctors have an unusually high level of opiate prescriptions, and then follow up on that.”

Nevada has one of the highest rates of opioid painkiller prescription in the nation. In 2016, there were 87.5 prescriptions per 100 state residents. Nationally, the rate was lower with 66.5 prescriptions per 100 residents.

Anh Gray is a former contributing editor at KUNR Public Radio.
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