Surgeon general: Most in US think opioid abuse is not local

Emily Wagster Pettus
Associated Press

Jackson, Miss. – The U.S. surgeon general, Dr. Jerome Adams, said Thursday that opioid abuse occurs nationwide, but only a small percentage of Americans think it’s an emergency in their own communities.

Surgeon General of the United States Dr. Jerome Adams speaks about opioid abuse Thursday, May 17, 2018, at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, Miss.

“Most of us feel that the opioid epidemic is a problem,” Adams said during a panel discussion at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. “But when you look at surveys, less than half of the people in the United States feel that it rises to the level of an emergency. And less than half of that – less than a quarter of the people – feel it’s an emergency in their community. Everyone thinks there’s a problem somewhere else.”

Gov. Phil Bryant said Mississippi law enforcement officers have revived 43 people in the past nine months with naloxone, a medication that reverses opioid overdose. The governor said all Highway Patrol troopers and Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics agents are carrying naloxone.

At Adams’ request, two physicians showed the governor how naloxone is administered by injection or nasal mist.

Surgeon General of the United States Dr. Jerome Adams, right, directs resident Dr. Ashley Villarreal, center, in simulating the administration of naloxone, a medication designed to rapidly reverse opioid overdose, on "patient" fellow resident Dr. John Grenn, before Gov. Phil Bryant, left, took a turn administering the medication, during a visit to the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, Miss.

Dr. Mary Currier, the Mississippi state health officer, said there are several types of naloxone, ranging in price from $37.50 to $1,500. In an interview later Thursday, she said the wide variation in cost is largely because of different types of technology. The more expensive doses are packaged with small audio recordings that give step-by-step instructions for a lay person to administer the drug. She said one of the least expensive ones is a vial of medicine that must be drawn up into a syringe that is sold separately.

The governor did not say how much the state law enforcement agencies pay for naloxone.

Currier said the state Department of Mental Health provides naloxone to medical first responders, and that is paid by a federal grant.

A Mississippi law enacted in 2017 says physicians may write a standing order for pharmacies to sell naloxone to people without a prescription. Currier said many large corporate-owned pharmacies have been doing so, but some smaller, independent pharmacies have not started. Currier said she is issuing a standing order to those smaller pharmacies so they can start selling the drug without prescriptions. She said that order should be sent to pharmacies in the next several days.