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By the end of 2016, the opioid prescribing rate in Louisiana had declined almost 11 percent since 2007.
But even with that marked progress, there were still almost enough opioid prescriptions dispensed for every resident in Louisiana to have one, according to the latest data released from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
With a rate of 98.1 opioid prescriptions distributed per 100 people in 2016, Louisiana was still well above the national rate of 66.5. Only four states — Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee — had higher prescribing rates.
“Obviously, as an administration, we acknowledge it is a crisis here in Louisiana,” said Michelle Alletto, deputy secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health.
State officials and lawmakers continue to search for ways to decrease the rate of opioid prescriptions and to combat the risk of opioid abuse and addiction in Louisiana.
Progressive policy changes for Medicaid beginning in January 2017 included a 15-day prescription limit for patients, along with limiting doses of Morphine Equivalent Dosing to 120 milligrams per day, or a seven-day supply, whichever is less, for all Medicaid patients.
“Since we’ve enacted those, we have seen the pills per prescription for Medicaid patients decrease by more than 25 percent, so we know those changes we effected are working,” Alletto said.
In addition, several pieces of legislation during the 2017 regular session aimed to help fight the opioid crisis.
Those include a house bill that limits first-time prescriptions of opioids for acute pain to a seven-day supply, with certain exceptions; a house bill creating an advisory council on heroin and opioid abuse prevention and education; and senate bills strengthening and broadening the Prescription Monitoring Program, a database that tracks the number and type of controlled prescription medications filled by pharmacists.
Attorney General Jeff Landry said via email that his office also has made it a priority to help save residents from the potential of opioid addiction and overdoses.
Through a legal settlement with Pfizer, Landry said, his office received $1 million worth of single draw-down doses of naloxone, an antidote medication that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.
Those doses were made available to first responders around the state, at no cost to their agencies.
“This initiative has already provided over 7,000 vials of the life-saving medicine to fire departments, sheriff offices, police departments and emergency providers throughout our state,” Landry said.
In addition, on Jan. 22, Louisiana Department of Health Secretary Rebekah Gee renewed a standing order for naloxone, which allows pharmacists to distribute the medication to caregivers, family and friends of an opioid user without the need for a doctor’s prescription.
“That’s one of the things (Gee) has done to ensure that barrier is removed for people who are family and friends of people that are facing addiction and are using opioids and are at risk for overdose,” Alletto said. “If we can’t save their life, we can’t get them into treatment. That’s something we’re trying to get out there as much as we can.”
The attorney general’s office also has partnered with the Louisiana Ambulance Alliance to create the Opioid Abuse Prevention Fund with Amphastar Pharmaceuticals.
A campaign from that partnership called “End the Epidemic LA” aims to educate residents of the dangers, warning signs and sources of help for those affected by opioid abuse and misuse.
Another initiative with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana and the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators aims to place drug take back boxes across the state, with the goal of having at least one location to drop off unused or expired prescription drugs in every parish.
Landry’s office also has, among other efforts, joined 40 other attorneys general in a multistate investigation to help determine what role opioid manufacturers and distributors may have played “in creating or prolonging the epidemic.”
“My office and I are seeking justice for the opioid epidemic’s victims and their families, and we will continue to fight the unethical behavior by those who have fueled the crisis,” Landry said.
National rate: 66.5 prescriptions per 100 people
Prescribing rate for Louisiana in 2016: 98.1
Louisiana rate change, 2007-16: -10.9 percent
2016 prescribing rate: 64.8
Parish rate change 2007-2016: 0.9 percent
2016 prescribing rate: 144
Parish rate change 2007-2016: -7.2 percent
2016 prescribing rate: 112.1
Parish rate change 2007-2016: -7.4 percent
2016 prescribing rate: 110.9
Parish rate change 2007-2016: -12.1 percent
2016 prescribing rate: 95.3
Parish rate change 2007-2016: -16.6 percent
2016 prescribing rate: 97.1
Parish rate change 2007-2016: -27.2 percent