Substance Abuse Newsletter May 2017

The following is a compendium of news reports over the past month that may be of interest to our AG offices who are dealing with substance abuse issues. Neither the National Association of Attorneys General nor the National Attorneys General Training & Research Institute expresses a view as to the accuracy of news accounts, nor as to the position expounded by the authors of the hyperlinked articles.

May 2017

Opioids

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, M.D. announced that HHS will provide $485 million in grants to help states and territories combat opioid addiction. The funding, which is the first of two rounds provided for in the 21st Century Cures Act, will be provided through the State Targeted Response to the Opioid Crisis Grants administered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The funding will be issued to all 50 states, the District of Columbia, four U.S. territories, and the free associated states of Palau and Micronesia. Funding will support a comprehensive array of prevention, treatment, and recovery services depending on the needs of recipients. States and territories were awarded funds based on rates of overdose deaths and unmet need for opioid addiction treatment. A list of the awards may be accessed here.

New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman joined a coalition of 20 attorneys general in opposing the current Administration’s efforts to scale back funding for drug use prevention and addiction treatment originally included in the Affordable Care Act (ACA). In a letter addressed to President Trump, Leader McConnell, and Speaker Ryan, the state Attorneys General urged the President and members of Congress to adequately fund drug treatment in their upcoming proposal to replace the ACA. The ACA currently allows significant and critical assistance for drug treatment, providing coverage to an additional 2.8 million Americans suffering from addiction. It also requires both private plans and Medicaid to cover certain drug treatment. The state AGs argue this provision is essential in their fight against the growing drug epidemic, which many view as one of the greatest challenges facing their communities – several of which are still recovering from the flood of addictive pain pills and surge in drugs like heroin, fentanyl, and carfentanil over the past few years. The letter may be accessed here.

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter was joined by Sen. AJ Griffin and Rep. Tim Downing at a press conference to announce legislation to form the Oklahoma Commission on Opioid Abuse. The commission will be created by Senate Concurrent Resolution 12, authored by Sen. Griffin and Rep. Downing. According to the resolution, the nine-member commission is chaired by Attorney General Hunter; members will study, evaluate, and make recommendations for changes to state policy, rules or statutes to better combat opioid abuse in Oklahoma. The commission will represent the health community, local law enforcement, the Oklahoma Legislature, the commissioner of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, the chair of the District Attorney’s Council and the director of the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drug Control.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi released the following statement regarding the Florida House of Representatives’ unanimous passing of HB 477—legislation that will add Fentanyl and other deadly synthetic drugs to Florida’s drug trafficking statute: “Fentanyl is a deadly synthetic opioid 50 times more powerful than morphine that is being cut with other drugs and sold as heroin. Taking Fentanyl just one time can kill and that is why I want to thank each member of the Florida House for voting to give prosecutors the tools to seek stronger sentences against traffickers selling Fentanyl and other deadly drugs in our state. We must continue to work together, and this legislation will help our continued efforts to combat this deadly crisis.”

School children in districts across Massachusetts will receive an unprecedented investment in evidence-based substance use prevention education under a new initiative announced by Attorney General Maura Healey. Designed to tackle a significant unmet need in the state’s battle against the ongoing opioid crisis, AG Healey will travel across the state with local leaders, educators, students and law enforcement partners, to distribute $700,000 in funding directly to school districts, nonprofits and community organizations which will be used to fund two years of prevention programming to 41 grantees in Massachusetts. The programs under this grant will run through April 2019 and are being funded by settlements the AG’s Office reached with CVS Pharmacy in September 2016 and later with Walgreens in January, totaling $700,000. Following the announcement of the grant program, the AG’s Office received 120 applications totaling nearly $4 million in requested funding from schools, community health centers, municipalities, police departments, and nonprofits.

Medical/Marijuana/Synthetics

Gov. Jim Justice signed a law making West Virginia the 29th state to allow the use of marijuana for certain medical conditions. The law lets doctors prescribe cannabis to patients who are terminally ill or have seizures, cancer, chronic pain, post-traumatic stress disorder, AIDS, and other specified conditions. The state Bureau of Public Health will oversee implementation, and will take its time to do so: Patient identification cards won't be issued until July 2019 or later. The law is comprehensive, providing for licensed plant growers, processors and dispensaries, making cannabis available to patients in pills, oils, patches, topical gels, liquids and a form that can be vaporized. The law doesn't authorize the sale of cannabis for smoking, and patients can't legally grow their own plants.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown signed marijuana legislation into law Monday which prohibits the state’s recreational marijuana dispensaries from keeping records on their customers, effectively safeguarding shoppers against potential federal interference. The legislation, SB 863, prohibits Oregon’s legal marijuana shops from keeping or transferring customers’ personal information, including names, birthdates, addresses, and other data typically gleaned from the government-issued identification cards individuals are asked to provide prior to each purchase.

Health officials in Colorado have launched a call center for people who have health questions related to marijuana use. Pharmacists, nurses, and toxicology experts from Denver Health’s Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center will be available to answer questions 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The hotline is a three-month pilot program funded by the City and County of Denver that might be extended, officials stated.

Methamphetamine

A Sioux Falls man has been sentenced to life in prison for conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. The U.S. Attorney’s Office says 55-year-old Shawn Sorensen was given the life sentence because he has two prior felony drug convictions. Authorities say the latest case involves 10 pounds of meth and a half-pound of cocaine which was discovered by the postal service.

Other

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and more than 4,200 of its law enforcement and community partners collected more unused prescription drugs than at any of the 12 previous National Prescription Drug Take Back Day events. On Saturday, April 29, 2017, the event brought in 900,386 pounds (450 tons) at close to 5,500 sites across the nation. Marking the 13th National Prescription Take Back Day since September 2010, these events have altogether collected 8,103,363 pounds (4,052 tons) of prescription drugs. The National Prescription Drug Take Back Day Initiative addresses a crucial public safety and public health issue. According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 6.4 million Americans abused controlled prescription drugs. DEA’s next National Prescription Take Back Day is Saturday, October 28, 2017.


Joanne Thomka is the Editor of Substance Abuse News and may be reached at 202-326-6269. Substance Abuse News is a publication of the National Association of Attorneys General. Any use and/or copies of this newsletter in whole or part must include the customary bibliographic citation. NAAG retains copyright and all other intellectual property rights in the material presented in this publication. For content submissions or to contact the editor directly, please e-mail jthomka@naag.org.

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