Tennessee leads opioid investigation as number of overdoses continue to rise

Opioids pills

AP Photo

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee is leading the way in a multi-state investigation into the manufacturing and distribution of opioids across the United States.

Attorneys in 41 states issued subpoenas to several companies including Endo, Janssen, Teva/ Cephalon, Allergan, AmericsourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson seeking documents and other information regarding how they market, sale and/or distribute the drugs.

It’s all in an effort to determine what role they play, if any, in prolonging the current opioid epidemic.

“The opioid crisis impacts all of us, and is a threat to families in every community in Tennessee and across the country,” Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III said. “We will use all resources available to identify and hold accountable those parties responsible. There is too much at stake not to attack this problem from all sides.”

In Tennessee alone, more than 1,600 people died from drug overdoses in 2016. That’s a 12 percent increase over 2015.

Officials said heroin was associated with 260 deaths in 2016, a 26 percent increase over the previous year.

Deaths where both opioids and stimulants, such as methamphetamine, were used jumped from 65 in 2015 to 111 in 2016.

But the illicit drug driving the increase is fentanyl. Fentanyl-related deaths increased 74 percent, from 169 to 294, from 2015 to 2016. The biggest fentanyl-related increase came in people ages 25 to 34, where 42 recorded deaths in 2015 increased to 114 last year.

 

Nationally, the number of drug overdose deaths are expected to continue to reach new record highs. The CDC expects drug overdose deaths to top 64,000 in 2016 when the numbers are finalized — that’s more than the number of American troops lost during the Vietnam War. Most of these overdoses involved an opioid. Since 1999, the number of opioid-related drug deaths has more than quadrupled.

While prescription opioids like oxycodone or hydrocodone were considered to be driving factors in the increasing rates of overdose in the early part of the 2000s, heroin and illicit fentanyl have become the drivers for opioid overdose deaths in recent years. In fact, the number of overdose deaths related to fentanyl is expected to more than double, from an estimated 9,945 in 2016 to 20,145 in 2017, the CDC says. For the first time, fentanyl will be the leading cause of opioid overdose.

‘It’s a national emergency’

On the heels of the release of a draft report of the President’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis, over the summer, President Donald Trump said “The opioid crisis is an emergency, and I am saying, officially, right now, it is an emergency. It’s a national emergency.

“We’re going to spend a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of money on the opioid crisis,” he added. “It is a serious problem the likes of which we have never had.”

In addition, this week, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican who chairs the drug addiction commission, posted a letter on the White House’s website requesting an additional four weeks for the commission to complete its final report.

“In the interest of submitting … sound recommendations, our research and policy development are still in progress,” wrote Christie. “Accordingly, and pursuant to the Executive Order establishing the Commission, we are seeking an additional four weeks to finalize our work.”

Many public health officials point to the over-prescribing of narcotic painkillers as one of the roots of the opioid overdose epidemic. Last year, the CDC issued new prescribing guidelines for using opioids to treat chronic pain. According to a recent government report, the No. 1 reason that people misuse prescription drugs is to manage pain. In an attempt to help deal with the pain issue, the Trump administration is partnering with private pharmaceutical companies to help fast-track non-opioid, non-addictive pain relief alternatives.