Some big news  involving opioids came out last week, but I haven’t had the chance to dig into it the way I would like.

The shockingly high number of opioid pills dispensed in the country several years ago deserves more analysis, because the numbers for Southwest Mississippi are shockingly high, too.

The Washington Post had to go to court to get the information, but last week it released figures on the number of hydrocodone and oxycodone pills sold between 2006-12.

Nationwide, 76 billion pills went out during that seven-year period. The Post provided figures for every state and county as well, and Mississippi dispensed a total of 854 million pills. Louisiana, with its much larger population, dispensed 1.37 billion pills.

Pike County’s total (mostly from pharmacies but a small percentage from doctors) was 16.8 million. Lincoln County dispensed 10.1 million, and other adjoining counties, which have fewer pharmacies, dispensed between 1.8 million and 4.8 million.

The six local counties dispensed a total of 40 million pills over seven years. Even if  you acknowledge there is a legitimate need for high-level pain killers, this is an awful lot of medication.

Too much, in my opinion. President Trump had good reason a couple of years ago to say that opioid abuse had become a public-health crisis.

The details are fascinating. First off, you figure that the big chain pharmacies sold most of the pills in Pike County. But according to this information, which comes from a DEA database, they only sold about one-third of the county’s opioids.

It was also a surprise to see that two locally owned pharmacies sold more opioids than Wal-Mart did.

I had hoped to prepare a story about this during the week, but only was able to trade e-mails with Circuit Judge Mike Taylor, who is in charge of drug court in Pike, Walthall and Lincoln counties.

Taylor wrote that drug court is working with more than 240 people whose addiction problems have resulted in criminal charges. “But there are many more people abusing opioids,” he added.

If anybody doubts that, the number of pills sold in Southwest Mississippi ought to change your mind. While drug court has helped a lot of people, you have to be guilty of a felony to get into the program. I suspect a lot of people who have had problems with opioids (or other drugs) have not fallen that far yet.

At the very least, these pill counts imply that we’ll need a lot of money for treatment. As time permits, I’d like to interview some people who are recovering from opioid abuse to see how they used to get the drugs and how they fell into addiction.

I also hope to find out how access to opioids has been restricted since 2012. The information that became public last week is for a period that ended seven years ago.

The DEA and opioid manufacturers opposed the release of this information, which was evidence in a lawsuit against the manufacturers. But providing more recent figures would tell the public whether opioid use really has decreased.

Taylor reports some success in drug court. He said the Pike, Lincoln and Walthall County drug courts were the first one in the state to receive the drug naloxone, better known as Narcan, which blocks the effects of opioids, especially after an overdose.

Wikipedia says that when given intravenously, naloxone works within two minutes. It works within five minutes when injected into a muscle.

Taylor said local drug court personnel held six naloxone training sessions in 2017, and, “We have verified reports of successful uses of naloxone from those we trained.”

Here’s the big question: If opioids are from the same chemical family as the very addictive and very dangerous heroin, how can anyone be surprised that the prescription versions turned out to be risky medication for a lot of people?

Taylor’s e-mail also said that local drug use shifted from illegal narcotics to pharmaceutical products. Drug test results confirmed this.

“Prescription drug fraud cases exploded,” he added, and the rising number of opioid prescriptions “seemed to indicate that a lot of ‘non-therapeutic use’ was occurring.”

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