Deaths from drug overdoses and prescriptions for opiate treatment drugs are both rising, worrying state officials

Despite measures to discourage prescription drug abuse, Kentucky health officials report overdose deaths continue to rise and opioid treatment drugs are being prescribed “at alarming rates,” Kevin Wheatley reports for cn|2′s “Pure Politics.”

A shift to cheaper, readily available heroin is partly to blame, Audrey Haynes, secretary of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services, told the legislature’s Interim Joint Committee on Health and Welfare Wednesday.

Haynes told the committee that heroin overdose deaths in Kentucky increased 207 percent from 42 in 2011 to 129 in 2012; Kentucky ranks highest in hospital admissions for heroin abuse among surrounding states and the national average; more women age 18-44 in Kentucky die from drug overdoses than the U.S. average; and the state has shown a 165 percent increase in neonatal abstinence syndrome in newborns from 2008 to 2013.

Another issue, Wheatley writes, is that opiate treatment drugs like buprenorphine, which can be prescribed by physicians, have been seized by police in arrests at higher rates, creating a concern among health officials that it is being used illegally.

The medical director of the Department for Medicaid Services, John Langefeld, told Wheately that data show a 241 percent increase in buprenorphine prescriptions for Medicaid recipients from January 2012 to this May and that police seizures of this drug have increased “threefold” since tougher laws on prescription drug abuse took effect in July 2012.

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