John Mack - Newtown Supervisor
Opioid Epidemic Category

Police Chief Speaks About His 24/7 Drug Drop-Off Program

Newtown Township Police Chief Henry Pasqualini explains how his 24/7 drug drop-off program works and offers more details about the collection of drug overdose and Narcan use police call data in response to a question from Supervisor John Mack. His remarks were made at the January 10, 2018, Board of Supervisors meeting.

I appreciate that the Chief's Call for Service Report (see below) now includes call numbers for overdoses and Narcan Use. Management guru Peter Drucker is often quoted as saying "you can't manage what you can't measure." So, these data are important.

As you may know, Mr. Resnikoff – Chief of Operations at the Squad – reported that the Squad’s response to opioid calls was up 58% in the first 8 months of 2017 compared to 2016 (for more on that, read "Newtown Ambulance Squad Seeks Additional Funding").

I’d just like to say one other thing related to this:

Pennsylvania Underestimates Death Due to Opioids by More Than Half! (Read about that here.) That’s the worst record of any state. It’s a disgrace that Chuck Kiessling - the president of the Pennsylvania Coroners Association - can’t tell us how many opioid overdose deaths the 67 members of his association handled last year. According to Mr. Kiessling, that data "isn’t going to impact the living." I’m here to say that those deaths matter and do have an impact on the living, especially the families of the victims.


Posted on 12 Jan 2018, 01:01 - Category: Opioid Epidemic

The Other Cost of the Opioid Epidemic: Increased Taxes

According to an article in today's Intelligencer,  Bucks County property taxes will go up 5.4 percent in 2018 to cover a $10 million budget deficit that commissioners say is due to the expenditure increases related to the ongoing fight against the opioid epidemic (see summary below).

We've seen the impact on EMS costs right here in Newtown when Evan Resnikoff, Chief of Operations, Newtown Ambulance Squad, asked the Town for the reinstatement of a 0.5 mill tax to cover increased costs mostly due to a 58% increase in opioid calls in the first 8 months of 2017 compared to the same period in 2016 (for more on that, read "Newtown Ambulance Squad Seeks Additional Funding"). This adds a significant cost to the healthcare system including EMS because greater than 80% of these patients have no insurance and cannot pay the fees.

The increase in County tax would mean a typical Bucks County homeowner would pay about $45 extra in real estate taxes in 2018. If Newtown adds its own EMS tax, a typical Newtown Township homeowner could pay an additional $40 in taxes above that amount or a total of $85 per year.

The County tax increase would have been even higher if Emergency services did not tap into $2 million of state funding.

Meanwhile, where's the money from the federal government as a result of declaring this a "National Emergency?" 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,” Trump told reporters at his Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey.


Posted on 26 Dec 2017, 13:17 - Category: Opioid Epidemic

Newtown Has a 24/7 Drug Drop Box - Sort Of

A funny thing happened to me on the way to the December 13, 2017, Newtown Board of Supervisors meeting. Well, not really funny, but gratifying! The following notice was - and hopefully still is - posted to the front door of the Municipal Building telling people that they now can drop off their unused drugs - including opioid pain medications - at police headquarters even when the office is closed after 4:30 PM, before 8:00 AM and on the WEEKENDS!

Notice posted on door to Municipal Building

All you have to do is use the red call box on the front porch of police headquarters and an officer will respond to give you access to the drop off box. Hopefully, the response will be as quick as possible. Whatever you do, do not leave unattended drugs on the front porch of police headquarters!

Although this is not as convenient as a 24/7 drug drop-off box that I advocated when campaigning for Supervisor, it is probably the best option for now. It's gratifying because my comments to the Board of Supervisors and discussions with Police Chief Henry Pasqualini have paid off. Thank you Chief!

Posted on 17 Dec 2017, 01:33 - Category: Opioid Epidemic

I Drop Off My Unused Pills

Mack drops off unused Rx 
pills at a recent Newtown
Drug Take Back Event.

A group of experts, led by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in collaboration with the Clinton Foundation, today issued a new report with comprehensive recommendations aimed at stemming the opioid epidemic.

"The opioid situation is certainly dire, but we are seeing progress in some areas," says Shannon Frattaroli, PhD, associate director for outreach at the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy at the Bloomberg School and one of the report's editors.

"Communities across the U.S. are organizing prevention efforts such as increased naloxone distribution that reverse an overdose, and drug 'take back' programs that reduce the supply of unused medications that are being unsafely stored in patients' homes. Taken together, these and other efforts suggest we can intervene in both the supply and demand of these drugs in communities and turn the crisis around."

Among the recommendations:

Provide Clear and Consistent Guidance on Opioid Disposal and Expand "Take Back" Programs: There are enormous volumes of unused opioids in homes throughout the U.S. that are too often diverted for nonmedical use. Safe disposal options for prescription opioids are needed.

I was expecting to see more people at the recent Newtown Drug Drop Off event. It's difficult to get people to participate in this activity that is scheduled for just a few hours on a weekend every 6 months or so.

In a letter to the Editor of the Bucks County Courier Times, I pointed out that more than 100,000 opioid pills may be sitting in medicine cabinets in Newtown just waiting to be diverted for illegal use (read "My Case for a 24/7 Drug Drop-Off Box").

Posted on 30 Oct 2017, 01:28 - Category: Opioid Epidemic

Is There a Role for Medical Cannabis in Combating the Opioid Epidemic?

[Guest post by Cliff Mintz who writes for Cannabis Science Blog. Mintz has an extensive background in biopharmaceutical drug development and Cannabis science. He received a BS degree from Cornell University and a PhD degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.]

While the exact causes of the current opioid academic are uncertain, a variety of factors including job loss, chronic unemployment, financial hardship and over-marketing/over-prescribing of opioids have been suggested (read "Former Insys Sales Reps Bribed Docs To Prescribe Opioids To As Many Patients as Possible"). It is important to note, however that between 1981 and 2011 the number of opioid prescriptions in the US tripled from 76 million to 219 million per year. According to a recent survey, over 97 million people took prescription opioids in 2015 and of these, roughly 12 million used opioids without being directed by a doctor.  Interestingly, because of recent state legislative initiatives that restrict the opioid prescribing habits of physicians, the number prescription opioids deaths appeared to level off in 2011. However, since 2011 the number of heroin overdose deaths and those related to illegal “black market” synthetic opioids like fentanyl has skyrocketed (CDC) in many hard hit states. This is because heroin and fentanyl are now much cheaper and more available than prescription opioids.

The current opioid epidemic is forcing many physicians to reevaluate their use of prescription opioids for pain control and to consider alternative pain management strategies. There is an emerging body of evidence that suggest that medical cannabis (smoked, vaporized or ingested) can effectively manage and control chronic non-cancer pain, reduce opioid consumption and help to lower opioid overdose deaths.

Cannabis Reduces Opioid Consumption

While cannabis is not approved as a treatment for pain in the US, there is a growing body of evidence from states where medical cannabis is legal that cannabis reduces opioid consumption in chronic pain patients. Several studies in the US and around the world showed that opioid use dropped by as much as 50% among chronic pain patients when they were given access to cannabis.

A study that researched the association between the existence of state medical marijuana laws and opioid overdose deaths from 1999 to 2010 found that opioid overdose deaths declined by as much as 25% in states that had medical cannabis laws in effect (Bachhuber MA, Saloner B, Cunningham CO, Barry CL. Medical cannabis laws and opioid analgesic overdose mortality in the United States, 1999-2010. JAMA. Intern Med. 2014; 174:1668-1673). Other research showed that reductions in opioid overdose deaths tend to improve in states where medical cannabis laws have been in effect the longest. For example, in California, where medical cannabis laws have been in effect since 1996, there has been a 33% drop in the number of opioid overdose deaths (op. cit.). Similar reductions were also observed in other legacy medical cannabis states such as Oregon, Colorado and the State of Washington.

Other Efforts

Several biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies are attempting to develop cannabis –derived drugs and mimetics that treat pain by binding to certain types of cannabis receptors found throughout the body. Removing cannabis’ psychotropic effects and preserving its pain-relieving benefits is the major objective for this new class of drugs. Although these drugs are still in early stages of development, using them rather than addictive opioids to manage chronic pain would be an important step in curbing opioid over use and abuse.

A Path Forward

Physicians play a critical role in prescription drug misuse and abuse prevention. To that point, continuing medical education programs that help raise awareness and educate physicians about the benefits of cannabis for pain management represents and important first step to curb over-prescription of opioids. Further, ongoing political and financial support for recent federal initiatives such as enhancing access to prescription drug monitoring using health information technology, formalized collaborative efforts between insurers, health care providers, and employers to combat opioid misuse and abuse and community-based programs like the national take-back initiative—which provides a safe, secure, environmentally-responsible plan for disposing of prescription opioids and educates the public about the potential for abusing and trafficking prescription medications—will also be critical. Finally, new federal and state legislation that offers counseling and medical solutions to treat opioid abusers rather than punish them will be vital to control America’s epidemic opioid crisis.

[Under Act 16 of 2016 (the Pennsylvania Medical Marijuana Act or the Act), the term “medical marijuana” refers to marijuana obtained for a certified medical use by a Pennsylvania resident with a serious medical condition. More about medical marijuana in Pennsylvania here.]

Posted on 24 Oct 2017, 11:58 - Category: Opioid Epidemic

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