With the 2017 Legislature behind them, members of the state’s Substance Abuse Workshop met Wednesday to discuss what Attorney General Adam Laxalt described as an “all of the above approach” to dealing with illegal drug issues.
The primary focus of the group was on the growing opioid abuse crisis that is impacting every community in the state. Larry Pinson, executive director of the Nevada Board of Pharmacy, said Nevada has had a Prescription Monitoring Program for 21 years collecting data on patients receiving opiates and other drugs with serious potential for abuse as well as the on doctors that prescribe them. But he said Assembly Bill 474 and Senate Bill 59, passed by the 2017 Legislature, will strengthen reporting by medical and pharmaceutical professionals.
Drug addiction efforts in the U.S. have long been criticized as focusing too much on law enforcement and not enough on the root causes of drug abuse and treatment programs.
Pinson said that, over the years, the monitoring program has produced mounds of data including information about patients attempting to “doctor shop” by getting prescriptions from several doctors to feed their addiction as well as on which physicians are prescribing the most opioid medicines.
“The question is what do you do with that information,” he said.
Laxalt said law enforcement, medical providers and public health have too long operated in “silos,” not communicating with each other. He said they need to work together to get the situation under control.
Stephanie Woodard of the Division of Behavioral Health said the federal State targeted Response grant includes funding for a Law Enforcement Coordinator to do just that.
Laxalt said he thinks that coordinator, in his office, will bring the different stakeholders together to produce a much more coordinated response.
Altogether, 80 percent of the $5.6 million grant must be go to treatment programs. The remaining 20 percent goes to prevention.
Woodard said the state has a year to demonstrate effective use of the money to build systems targeting individuals who are at risk.
Keith Carter of the Nevada High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Program said opioids and other pharmaceutical drugs — legal drugs being abused — are a relatively new addition to the growing U.S. drug problem, especially for law enforcement. He said the group must remember that law enforcement is still dealing with the traditional illegal drugs such as meth, heroin, cocaine and marijuana. Those mostly come into the U.S. from Mexico and South America. Of those, he said meth remains the most significant threat but that the availability and use of heroin has grown dramatically in the past few years. Both, he said, are increasing the number of overdoses and deaths, although, he said overdoses and deaths from prescription drugs remain unacceptably high.
Laxalt said another issue is the growing number of designer drugs coming onto the market — some of which, like fentanyl, can be fatal.
He said the “all of the above” approach also requires that stakeholders do a lot more to make people aware of those dangers.
The group plans to meet again in October to review more detailed plans for how the federal and state money dedicated to the drug problem will be used.