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Opioid Crisis Draws Failed Response From States, Group Says

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  • The cost is too high to watch from the sidelines, council says
  • Kentucky, New Mexico, Vermont among states making progress

Most U.S. states are failing to adequately respond to prescription opioid overdoses, a crisis responsible for almost 19,000 deaths a year, a safety group said.

QuickTake Heroin

“The cost of this epidemic is too high for states to watch from the sidelines,” Deborah A.P. Hersman, president of the National Safety Council, said in a statement Thursday.

Opioids are prescribed as painkillers and can be addictive. The abuse has devastated rural communities, turned many users to illegal narcotics such as heroin and contributed to the death this year of the musician Prince.

States were evaluated on six criteria, including the availability of treatment; mandatory education for doctors who prescribe opioids; and access to naloxone, which can reverse the effect of opioids. Michigan, Missouri and Nebraska didn’t meet a single one of the standards, according to a report from the council. Twenty-four other states were labeled as “failing” because they meet just one or two of the six objectives. While Kentucky, New Mexico, Tennessee and Vermont passed at least five, no state had a perfect score.

Governments should also eliminate so-called pill mills, which routinely over-prescribe controlled substances, the group said. Better monitoring programs and improved guidelines for prescriptions can also limit abuse, according to the council.

‘More to Do’

“Some states have made significant progress,” the group said in the report. “Others have much more to do while each day people suffer from addiction and die from this epidemic.”

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon has sought to win legislative approval for a program to better monitor prescription drugs and this week signed a bill to expand access to naloxone, a spokesman for the Democrat said. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder, a Republican, has created a commission to make recommendations for dealing with opioids, based on the findings of a 2015 task force report, a spokeswoman said in an e-mail.

The council’s report overlooks recent progress in Nebraska, including the announcement this week of improved monitoring to limit excessive prescriptions, said Taylor Gage, a spokesman for the governor’s office there.

The National Safety Council is a non-profit organization focused on reducing risks in the workplace, on the roads and in homes. Hersman is former chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.