Dr. Denise Johnson, Pennsylvania’s Acting Secretary of Health, explains how a statewide law permitting syringe services would give cover and funding to local programs trying to battle the opioid epidemic; Laura Edison, an epidemiologist in the...
Dr. Denise Johnson, Pennsylvania’s Acting Secretary of Health, explains how a statewide law permitting syringe services would give cover and funding to local programs trying to battle the opioid epidemic; Laura Edison, an epidemiologist in the Georgia Department of Public Health, says her state has tackled the overdose problem on several fronts; and ASTHO President Dr. Nirav Shah is this year’s winner of Maine’s Caregiver of the Year award presented by the Maine Hospital Association.
This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Tuesday, June 21st, 2022. I'm Robert Johnson.
Now, today's news from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.
Syringe services are a proven tool in the campaign to reduce opioid overdose and death, but they're not always available to public health teams in Pennsylvania—only Philadelphia and Pittsburgh have local ordinances that permit exchange programs.
Dr. Denise Johnson is the state's acting secretary of health.
Absolutely, it's not working fine the way it is right now, Pennsylvania especially. We made some great gains in attacking this opioid crisis and we've really had some good progress; but with the pandemic, we really have seen a resurgence of overdoses. So, whatever we're doing is not working well enough. We need to use more tools. And so—for other states as well, nationwide we've seen an increase in overdoses. So, we really have to pull out all the stops and use everything that we possibly can.
Johnson says her state has working with lawmakers to allow syringe program statewide, a move that could give others the cover and funding they need to adopt a local program.
Because we don't have statewide permission to have these programs, then local organizations are reluctant to start them out because they're concerned about legal constraints. But also, because we don't have statewide legislation, we don't have access to federal funding that can help organizations to be able to provide these services. So, really the change in our legislation would really go a long way towards providing more of these services.
The legislation is still working its way through the state capitol, but Johnson says success is critical.
Individuals who use these services are five times more likely to enter a treatment program. And we know that a lot of individuals who use drugs are really reluctant to interact with the healthcare system because they feel stigmatized and not respected. And having these services available provides an entryway for individuals who might not otherwise get into treatment and who might not otherwise get other medical care.
Pennsylvania is one of 10 states without legislation allowing syringe programs. Pennsylvania isn't alone in the fight.
Georgia is watching overdose deaths climb to record levels. In the last two years, the state has suffered a 218% increase among 15–19 year olds. The overdose death rate jumped 775% over the same period.
Laura Edison is an epidemiologist in the state's health department.
So, I think the combination of pandemic stressors—which may have turned more people to drugs for relief—the high potency of fentanyl and all kinds of street drugs, and the prevalence of fentanyl and street drugs coupled with easy access make for a really deadly combination, driving this increase in overdose deaths.
Edison says Georgia is attacking the problem from every possible angle.
You know, there's the primary prevention—so, education. And clearly we need to be doing a better job of educating school-age children about the risks of fentanyl and the risks of drug use and addiction to maybe stop it on the front end.
There's educating adults—particularly drug users and friends and family of those—about naloxone, how it can save lives, that you can get it at any pharmacy, that you can call 911 and not get in trouble, how to use drugs safely without overdosing. So, education is a really important part of it.
But then in addition, we do a lot of surveillance for overdoses, both using timely data like EMS and emergency department data to try to identify things as real-time as possible. And we also look at death trends and we also administer the prescription drug monitoring program to try to improve prescribing practices.
Finally this morning, ASTHO president Dr. Nirav Shah is this year's winner of Maine's Caregiver of the Year award presented by the Maine Hospital Association. The honor is normally reserved for a caregiver at a hospital in the state, but Dr. Shah, who also leads the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, is recognized for his outstanding leadership and work with hospitals during the pandemic. You can read about the award using the link in the show notes.
That'll do it for today's newscast. We're back tomorrow morning with more ASTHO news and information.
I'm Robert Johnson. You're listening to Public Health Review Morning Edition. Have a great day.