An opioid addiction and overdose epidemic that has ravaged many Eastern states could worsen in Kansas, said Attorney General Derek Schmidt.
Schmidt said Kansas has not seen as many deaths as hard-hit states like West Virginia, Ohio and Massachusetts, but he said addictions, overdoses and drug sales related to opioids appeared to be growing more prevalent.
“I think it’s coming our way,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt testified last week before the Joint Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice Oversight. He said local prosecutors have increasingly reported finding heroine and prescription opioids in local black markets. They’ve also seen increases in overdose deaths, he said. Between 2013 and 2015, overdose deaths related to prescription opioids rose 28 percent, according to the Kansas Department for Health and Environment. For heroine, the problem grew by 71 percent.
“We’re in this problem,” Schmidt said. “Not to the extent that some of our counterparts back East are, but I don’t have any reason to believe that it’s not happening.”
More than 300 people died of drug overdoses in 2015 in Kansas, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That was largely unchanged from 2013. Ohio and Pennsylvania each saw more than 3,000 deaths.
Committee Chairman Rep. Russell Jennings, a Lakin Republican, said the committee didn’t make any recommendations for action based on Schmidt’s testimony, but he said legislators recommended spending another $1.5 million each of the next three years on treatment programs for prison inmates. Corrections Secretary Joe Norwood told legislators that funding had declined in recent years.
Jennings and Schmidt said methamphetamines remained a bigger problem in Kansas.
Schmidt said he and other states’ attorneys general were investigating the behavior of prescription drug manufacturers. He said many addictions start with a lawful prescription of necessary drugs.
“We’re interested in an explanation for why the large number of opioid-based prescription has ballooned in recent years and whether it was truly a function of medical necessity and propriety, or whether there might be other factors, such as marketing practices, that played into that.”
Rep. Greg Lakin, a Wichita Republican and family and addiction physician, said he thought there was more that could be done to address the problem. Lakin said he would like to see a comprehensive round-table approach to the crisis that includes physicians, police and court officials.
Lakin said increased awareness was also important so people could see warning signs.
“Everybody needs to have an increased awareness that the people they deal with may have a substance abuse problem,” Lakin said.
Earlier this year, the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services was awarded $3.1 in federal grant money to tackle the crisis and awarded regional grants to the University of Kansas Health System, the Central Kansas Foundation, Heartland RADAC and Four County Mental Health Center.
The state also moved to expand access to opioid antagonists, drugs that stop the symptoms of an overdose. Lakin led the effort to pass that bill, which allows first responders, bystanders and pharmacists to more easily distribute naloxone, an opioid antagonist. Lakin said that was a good start.
“But it doesn’t go to actually treating the addict,” Lakin said. “It’s just a lifesaving measure, it’s not a treatment measure.”
He also advocated more support for addiction treatment and work with mental health officials because addicts may have underlying mental health problems, like anxiety or depression.