There is a glimmer of hope for lawmakers regarding the southwest Virginia prescription drug epidemic. Records show the number of opioid drug prescriptions has decreased in the past few months. The news comes as new legislation is set to take effect to monitor those prescriptions.
Beginning July 1, doctors will have to check the state-wide prescription monitoring program, or PMP, for recently written controlled substances.
“It’s been on a volunteer basis that they check the PMP before. With the new regulations by the Board of Medicine and the new legislation that begins in July, it’s mandatory if they’re writing for a prescription for over seven days,” Delegate Todd Pillion said. Pillion represents the fourth district in Virginia, which includes Washington, Russell, Wise, and Dickenson Counties.
Pillion believes the supply chain is the root of the problem of prescription drug abuse. This past session, he worked at length with the board of medicine to create a plan for alternative treatment. Now, records show the number of opioid prescriptions are down since March right as his legislation is prepared to take effect.
Pillion said, “Many drug abusers begin abusing drugs because they were first introduced to prescription drugs, and sometimes they’re over-prescribed prescription drugs.”
Numbers we obtained from Pillion show in March, 1.27 million controlled substances were filled in Virginia. By May, that number was down to 1.16 million.
Even though that brings hope to those working in the field, they know the problem is far from over. Sarah Melton is a Professor of Pharmacy Practice at the Gatton College of Pharmacy.
She says the new regulations are based upon studies from the CDC and other health agencies. Melton shared with News 5 that while opioid prescriptions and overdoses are decreasing, a new concern is heroin overdoses are increasing.
“As access to prescription opioids goes down, there’s an increased desire to still get an opioid to maintain an addiction. Heroin is much less expensive than buying prescription opioids on the street,” Melton said.
That problem leaves health care providers looking for new ways to tackle the drug abuse problem in the region. Melton informed us of a new grant in Virginia to get immediate help for those who overdose.
“We are trying to get pure recovery case managers into the emergency room, so that when someone comes in on an overdose, they’re referred to treatment and they’re followed up to make sure they are getting the appropriate treatment they need,” Melton said.
Southwest Virginia lawmakers are working on additional legislation for next session to combat opioid abuse.