Louisiana senator, healthcare leaders brainstorm over ongoing opioid crisis

Published: Aug. 23, 2022 at 7:34 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Experts say the COVID-19 pandemic is not helping the nation’s opioid crisis. But an LSU Health doctor says the medical community is responding to efforts to reduce the prescribing of such drugs.

Local, and state healthcare leaders brainstormed Tuesday (Aug. 23) with Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy on ways to ramp up the fight against opioid abuse and other illicit drug use, during a roundtable discussion in New Orleans.

“We were making an impact before COVID,” said Edward Carlson, CEO of Odyssey House of Louisiana, which hosted the meeting. “Unfortunately, COVID has just sort of recreated the wave even worse.”

Cassidy said the discussion touched on painkillers and other illicit drugs.

“It’s not just opioids,” Cassidy said. “There are people who are dying from methamphetamine as well. We heard statistics from the state crime lab that about 80 percent of people have more than one substance in their blood when they’re stopped for driving under the influence, not including alcohol.”

Solving the drug crisis, he said, goes beyond one approach.

“There is no one solution,” Cassidy said. “If you have a young person, you have to first try and keep them from ever using a substance at all. Gerry Cvitanovich, the Jefferson Parish coroner, said one pill can kill. Someone thinks they’re buying some benign, (or) relatively benign substance, and it turns out it’s laced with fentanyl.”

Congress has passed laws and the CDC issued guidelines in an effort to reduce the over-prescribing of opioids, since the painkilling drugs can prove addictive for some people.

Dr. Benjamin Springgate, LSU Health’s Chief of Community & Population Medicine, said lawmakers and medical professionals have worked in recent years to decrease the amount of opioids being prescribed. But he said the drugs still have a place in medicine.

“For acute, traumatic injuries like a broken leg or something, there may be some short-term benefit to receiving some opioid pain medication. (And) for chronic, unremitting pain associated with something severe like cancer.”

But he also stressed other options.

“There are alternative medications which can also be effective in controlling pain, such as non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory medications,” he said. “Over-the-counter versions might include Ibuprofen or Naproxen, also Tylenol or Acetaminophen. And injections and these types of non-opioid medications, combined with physical therapy or other approaches, can make a big difference in pain without the risk of addiction or overdose.”

Springgate and Cassidy said the medical community has responded in a positive way to new CDC guidelines and laws related to prescribing opioid drugs.

“We’ve seen a tremendous decrease over time in virtually every state in the country, including here in Louisiana, in prescriptions of opioids,” Springgate said. “So I think the provider community, the physician community, has been responsive.”

Cassidy said, “I think physicians, dentists have become very aware of the potential for addiction and how we prescribe. Now what we have to worry about are drugs coming across the border or drugs coming from China through the mail.”

Participants also discussed how to get resuscitated overdose victims into treatment programs, hopefully within 24 hours while the scary experience remains fresh in their minds.

“We were told that they are almost to the point where that’s going to happen with everyone that’s resuscitated on the street,” Cassidy said.

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