Opioid Addiction Top Health Concern

(Chattanooga Times Free Press) Tennessee could receive up to $24 million to fight heroin and painkiller addiction, if Congress approves the Obama administration’s proposal to provide $1.1 billion in new funding to help treat what is being called an “opioid epidemic.”

The funds would help the state create new clinics, particularly in rural areas that have been particularly hard-hit by addiction to opioids, which include both heroin and painkillers such as Oxycontin.

Federal officials released those figures Tuesday as the Obama administration ramped up its push to win approval for the money.

“Society has to begin to see addiction issues as a disease and not as character flaws,” said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who as chairman of the White House Rural Council is heading a task force to address the issue. “This is not people committing crimes, and it should be treated as a disease just as cancer or heart disease.”

More than 28,000 Americans died from a heroin or painkiller overdose in 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Emphasizing the seriousness of the issue, a new study of 45,000 Tennessee Medicaid recipients released Tuesday by Vanderbilt University reports that patients using opioid painkillers were much more likely to die of heart problems than those using other pain treatments.

“We found that the opioid patients had a 64 percent increased risk of death for any reason and a 65 percent increased risk of cardiovascular death,” said Dr. Wayne Ray, professor of health policy at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

“As bad as people think the problem of opioid use is, it’s probably worse,” said Ray, lead author of the study. “They should be a last resort, and particular care should be exercised for patients who are at cardiovascular risk.”

“The doctor and patient need to have a conversation,” Ray said. “If the patient hears that there is a chance he or she wouldn’t wake up if they took the medicine, they might think really hard about the alternatives.”

In an interview Tuesday with the Times-Free Press, Vilsack, a former Iowa governor, said he hopes Congress will recognize the seriousness of the situation.

“Forty-four percent of Americans say they know someone close to them who is dealing with an addiction issue. That is an incredible percentage,” he said. On average, 84 people will die of an overdose every day, Vilsack said.

The agriculture secretary has personal experience with the problem. His mother was a prescription drug addict and alcoholic, and she “went through an incredibly difficult time” before finally turning her life around, Vilsack said.

Read More: http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/local/story/2016/jun/15/tennessee-could-get-24-millifight-heroin-pain/371112/

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