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Okla. AG, State Opioid Commission, recommend bold action to combat rising epidemic

Heide Brandes / Red Dirt Report
Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter and members of the Oklahoma Commission on Opioid Abuse release their findings and recommendations to combat the state's opioid crisis.
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter and members of the Oklahoma Commission on Opioid Abuse released its findings and recommendations Tuesday on ways to combat the opioid epidemic in Oklahoma, a plan that also includes taxing opioid manufacturers, distributors and wholesalers.

The nine-member commission has met six times a period of five months to address the issue of opioid addition in Oklahoma, and the final report released includes recommendations for legislation, policy and rule changes.

The commission created 31 recommendations to address opioid abuse, overdoses and irresponsible prescribing, including mandating the use of electronic prescriptions; criminalizing the trafficking of fentanyl and its equivalent; passing a Good Samaritan Law; requiring medical clinic owners to register with the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs and instituting a tax on manufacturers, wholesalers and distributors of opioids, and use the money as a funding mechanism for opioid addiction treatment.

Other recommendations included fully funding drug courts and other specialty courts throughout the state, reviewing current drug law to determine drug court eligibility and expand eligibility after recent changes in the law which made some drug possession crimes misdemeanor offenses; changing necessary rules with the appropriate boards to require at least one hour of continuing education for all prescribers and pharmacists every reporting period on proper prescribing and the risks of opioids and recognizing addiction and diversion; and creating a statewide emergency department (“ER”) discharge database to study overdose events and aftercare results.

“Since the commission’s formation in April, members have demonstrated and advocated the need for changes to reverse this nightmarish epidemic,” said Hunter.

“Nationwide, the opioid crisis has caused the deadliest drug epidemic in United States history. In 2016, drug overdose deaths in the United States claimed the lives of over 64,000 people. The jump was the largest increase in overdose deaths ever recorded.”

The goal of the commission was to create a list of recommendations to be presented to state lawmakers to curb the opioid epidemic in Oklahoma, he said.

“What we are presenting today is a blueprint for changes to legislation and policy that will establish a much needed framework to further enhance Oklahoma’s response to the opioid epidemic,” Attorney General Hunter said.

“When implemented, we know lives will be saved, more treatment options will be made available, addiction will be diagnosed, diverted and treated, allowing families who have loved ones struggling with addiction to get help and drug dealers will be held accountable. I look forward to seeing the change that will come about because of our work.”

Many of the recommendations will require funding, but Hunter said the state needs to invest in fighting the opioid challenge.

“It’s an equation that involves supply and demand. The demand side is addiction. If the state doesn’t invest in getting people well and helping people get over their addiction, we are not dealing with the problem,” Hunter said. “There has got to be a priority placed on funding treatment programs. We’ve come up with a remedy that will assist in creating a revenue stream to fund this.”

The recommended tax on opioid manufacturers and distributors could generate $14 to $17 million to be used for treatment programs, the commission recommended.

“I’ll be stunned if there isn’t any push back, but we wanted to identify a revenue stream that was connected to the problem,” Hunter said. “We have a product that was intended for good, but causes 1,000 to die each year in Oklahoma. My hope is that they would understand. Pharmaceutical companies should help support funding of treatment for their own product.”     

Attorney General Hunter also announced his office acted on the commission recommendation to participate in the First Responder Overdose Program, through the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

“This morning, I signed a memorandum of understanding with the department of mental health to have agents in the Attorney General’s Office trained to carry Naloxone,” Attorney General Hunter said. “We hope leading by example, will send a message to other law enforcement agencies to get involved with this program.”

Among the recommendations of the commission was to expand the 19-community- based Naloxone programs in the state to include homeless shelters and to continue to expand the first responder overdose program through the Department of Mental Health Services.

In April, Hunter proposed legislation to form the commission, and in May, the resolution was signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin. The members included stakeholders like medical professionals, law enforcement, private sector businesses and mental health and recovery professionals.

Hunter has taken an aggressive stance against opioid manufacturers. The state, along with other states and tribal governments, have filed lawsuits against opioid manufacturers, and in January, a Cleveland County District Judge set a trial date for Oklahoma’s lawsuit against Purdue Pharma, Allergan, Teva and Janssen Pharmaceuticals.

Oklahoma’s lawsuit is the first to receive a trial date.

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Heide Brandes

Heide Brandes is an award-winning journalist and editor with more than 18 years of experience....

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