Gov. Bentley creates council to study opioid addiction, abuse

Gov. Bentley creates council to study opioid addiction, abuse

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Governor Robert Bentley signs Executive Order 27 on Thursday, creating the Alabama Council on Opioid Misuse and Abuse.

Opioid-related deaths in the U.S. surged past 30,000 in 2015 for the first time in recent history, according to the CDC.

The Governor's Office reported that on average, 78 people are dying every day from opioid painkillers.

Alabama is no stranger to this deadly epidemic. 723 people died from drug overdoses in 2014, marking a 19.7 percent increase in one year.

"When Alabama is treating only about 10 percent of those people with addictions, it's time for us to take action," said Jim Perdue, Commissioner of Alabama's Department of Mental Health.

Purdue and State Health Officer Dr. Tom Miller are Co-Chairing the council.

Bentley says the council will create a strategic plan, including policy and regulation recommendations, to decrease opioid-related deaths in Alabama.

"First, we will educate people on the problem, not just children, but also our communities," Purdue said. "Second is control of prescriptions, to make sure that we are not having more prescriptions issued in the State of Alabama than we have citizens. Then it's, of course, it's prevention and treatment of individuals. A short answer would be that we haven't had enough money to address it. With the governor's help, we have devised a way to draft more money to solve the problem."

There's no secret the state has a prescription pain killer problem. Governor Bentley reported 5,800,000 opioid prescriptions were written last year in Alabama, which equates to about 1.2 prescriptions per person.

"This is not just prescribers," Bentley explained. "The overdoses and people dying from overdoses, only 17 percent are from prescribing doctors. Most come from other people's medicine cabinets."

As law enforcement officers shut down pill mills across the state, more addicts are turning to heroin, a natural opioid, which is cheaper and easier to obtain.

Miller says the state is not only dealing with citizens with major addictions, many children are born with these drugs in their systems.

"It truly plays out in our newborn babies," Miller said. "As we see those babies born to those mothers who used these drugs during the pregnancy and have extended stays in the neonatal intensive care units undergoing withdrawals, that really rings home how challenging this issue is to get our arms around."
 
The council will hold its first official meeting sometime over the next six weeks. There's no timeline for completion of the strategic plan, however, it could be finalized before the Regular Legislative Session begins.

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