Hennepin County is on pace to break a dubious record in 2016.
In the first six months of this year, more than 80 people died from an overdose of heroin and other opioids. And the epidemic doesn’t appear to be slowing, according to law enforcement, health care and treatment officials who met for a roundtable on drug abuse and diversion in the Twin Cities last week.
At the meeting, Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, a St. Louis-based company, announced the donation of 30,000 drug deactivation pouches that will be handed out to people locally who want to easily dispose of opioids at home. Up to 1.35 million prescription pills, patches or liquid doses of opioids can be destroyed if every pouch is filled to its 45-pill capacity.
“These are alarming trends, and frankly law enforcement cannot solve this problem on our own,” said Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek, who attended the roundtable. “We need public safety partners to help us overcome this deadly epidemic. We need residents, elected officials, community organizations, schools and parents, and the medical community to step up and help us turn these trends around.”
In the past year, Minneapolis-based Verde Technologies started distributing a drug deactivation pouch system that renders opioids ineffective for misuse and safe for disposal and the environment. It’s the only such product developed through a scientific research grant, said Verde President Jason Sundby.
The opioids are destroyed by adding water to the sealable pouch and simply throwing it away in the garbage. Mallinckrodt donated the 30,000 pouches locally as part of its initiative to give away 1 million total pouches nationwide. In Minnesota, the product has been supplied to retail pharmacies, health care providers, law enforcement agencies and treatment centers.
Opioids include prescription meds used to treat pain, such as morphine, codeine, methadone, OxyContin, Percocet, Vicodin and buprenorphine, as well as illegal drugs such as heroin. This month, the state Department of Human Services received a $1.6 million federal grant to prevent all facets of drug abuse.
“The cost to the people who become dependent on these powerful drugs — as well as the cost to their families, to the community and the state — is staggering,” said Minnesota Department of Human Services Commissioner Emily Johnson Piper.
As part of National Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week, which concluded this week, federal agencies took a number of actions:
• Expanded health coverage for substance use disorder treatment.
• Established enhanced measures with China to combat the supply of fentanyl and its analogues coming to the U.S.
• Increased the patient limit from 100 to 275 for practitioners who prescribe buprenorphine to treat opioid addiction.
• Had National Drug Control Policy Director Michael Botticelli speak at the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials annual meeting in Minneapolis on the role that public health leaders must play in addressing the epidemic.
Charles Reznikoff, an addiction medicine doctor at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, is a vocal advocate to train and educate more primary doctors to prescribe buprenorphine to treat opioid addiction. The drug is often prescribed during detox from other opioids. Because the drug is hard to find, and because he’s a provider, Reznikoff receives calls daily from doctors who are seeking it.
“As long as there are untreated addicts, the problem perpetuates itself,” he said. “If you had depression 40 years, you couldn’t get your primary doctor to treat you.”
Unlike other drug addictions such as cocaine and methamphetamines, people are more likely to know somebody directly or indirectly who is struggling with opioid use, said Reznikoff, a board member for the Steve Rummler Hope Foundation, working to prevent opioid abuse. While doctors are prescribing opioids less, addicts may then reach for heroin.
“Opioids are a little like tobacco,” Reznikoff said. “When it gets hold of you, it keeps hold of you. Meth and coke users tend to burn out.”