U.S. Surgeon General Discusses Opiate Epidemic in Cuyahoga County

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So far in 2016, 228 people have overdosed on heroin and died in Cuyahoga County. For all of 2015, the death count landed at 194. It's not for nothing that the word "epidemic" is now being overshadowed in news stories and public discourse by the phrase "public health crisis." There's something deeper and broader at work here.

With that in mind, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy toured Rosary Hall at St. Vincent Charity Medical Center this morning, visiting patients in recovery and hearing their stories — from addiction to treatment. Among Murthy's messages on behalf of the federal government: "We have to attack this problem on several fronts ... What we have to do is help people see [addiction] for what it is, which is a chronic disease like diabetes or heart disease."

Murthy cited Ohio's steps toward naloxone access as a helpful move, but he noted that the country needs a tighter focus on reforming physicians' prescribing practices. For instance, 48 percent of health care providers in Ohio who prescribe buprenorphine, an opioid used to treat opioid addiction, require cash for that medication, according to one doctor at Rosary Hall. For now, that practice remains legal, though it's one that quite easily feeds addictions and generates the "pill mill" phenomenon. 

Later this year, Murthy will issue his office's nationwide report on alcohol, drugs and health.

Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish joined the event, as well, telling reporters that a chief concern at the county level is advocating for raising the federal Medicaid reimbursement cap on the number of treatment beds from 30 to 100 per treatment facility. As the number of overdose deaths climbs, so too does the number of addicts seeking treatment. Waiting lists for facilities like Rosary Hall often hover around the two-week timeframe, and the county has publicly stated a goal of getting that down to five days or fewer. 

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