Great Score for VA on Drug Overdose Report

With only three states in the country doing better, Virginia ranks fourth lowest for the number of people who overdose on prescription drugs. The report, Prescription Drug Abuse: Strategies to Stop the Epidemic, says Virginia has still increased in the number of deaths from overdoses (up 36 percent from 1999), but so has the rest of the nation. Our current rate is 6.8 deaths per 100,000 residents.

The number is still too high, and the state with the lowest number is North Dakota, at less than four, and the highest number of deaths per capita is in West Virginia, with 28.9 – four times our rate.

Another ranking, which gives points based on how many criteria to combat prescription drug misuse a state has in place, gives us a score of eight out of ten. Some of the policies we have in place are: Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, Doctor Shopping laws, ID requirement for prescriptions, and a “lock-in” program that keeps Medicaid patients locked to single pharmacy for all their prescriptions.

The two items we missed on the report card were: No expansion of Medicaid (under the ACA) for drug treatment services, and no Good Samaritan law for those who seek medical treatment with illegal drugs.

All in all, Virginia is doing fairly well compared to other states. But obviously, with a doubling of deaths in ten years, we can do much better. The surprising thing is that our neighbor, West Virginia is doing so poorly, even though they scored the same 8 out of 10 on their report card. There has to be another element, one not tracked by the study, to generate such different numbers for states that are so similar.

Recommendations from the report include:
• Educate the public to understand the risks of prescription drug use to avoid misuse in the first place;
• Ensure responsible prescribing practices, including increasing education of healthcare providers and prescribers to better understand how medications can be misused and to identify patients in need of treatment;

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