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Kansas Preparing for Increase in Opioid Addiction

By Allison Kite, Kansas City Star

With opioid abuse on the rise in Kansas, some officials are worried the state isn't adequately prepared. A measure passed by the House last week and some preparations by state agencies could help.

The House bill would expand access to lifesaving drugs that stop overdoses by allowing first responders to carry and administer them. The state is also working to enhance addiction prevention and treatment.

"Clearly we've seen a trend that things are moving a certain direction, and that's not favorable, so now is definitely the time to act," said Sarah Fischer, who works on prevention for the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services.

The dramatic increase in opioid addiction seen in some communities has not reached Kansas, but abuse is on the rise. A report from The Kansas Department of Health and Environment says the state's prescription opioid drug overdose death rate increased 28 percent and heroin deaths increased 71 percent between 2013 and 2015.

Kansas is one of only three states that don't allow first responders to carry and administer emergency treatments such as naloxone that block the effects of opioids. The bill to change that passed the House unanimously, and Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee Vice Chairwoman Barbara Bollier, a Republican from Mission Hills, said she thinks the committee will consider it yet this session.

Rep. Greg Lakin, a physician who introduced the bill, said first responders lose precious time with overdosing patients by having to take them to a hospital for the emergency treatment.

A generic syringe dose of naloxone costs about $20, said Aaron Dunkel, executive director of the Kansas Pharmacists Association. The brand name, Narcan, comes in a nasal spray that costs about $140 for a two-pack box, he said.

Fischer's department hopes to get a federal grant for prevention and treatment of opioid abuse. Fischer said the money would be used to expand treatment in Western Kansas, treat overdoses in Southeast Kansas, fight heroin use in Wichita and promote treatment and prevention in the Kansas City metro area and tribal areas in Northeast Kansas. She said it would also enhance access to methadone treatment and possibly target pregnant women.

That could help stem rising numbers of babies born with opioid dependence. Overland Park Regional Hospital Neonatologist Dena Hubbard said those infants can go through withdrawal and later suffer mental health and behavioral problems.

"Previously this had been kind of an urban, low socioeconomics-status problem," Hubbard said. "This is much more diverse now with the increase in use of prescription opioids."

Using the grant to expand access to methadone could give people more treatment options. Some providers are concerned the state doesn't have enough treatment resources to address an epidemic like those some states have seen.

"It always seems like the treatments lag behind the need, at least for a while," Lakin said.

The state has nine methadone clinics in five counties, and one accepts patients insured by Medicaid.

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