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The National Attorneys General Training & Research Institute The National Attorneys General Training & Research Institute

Substance Abuse Newsletter December 2016

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.


Every patient should ask questions when getting a new prescription. This is especially important when a doctor, dentist, or other health care professional prescribes an opioid, such as hydrocodone, The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has created resources for patients to assist in talking with their doctors about opioids. The materials may be accessed here.

The DEA has released the 2016 National Drug Threat Assessment. This assessment gives a timely and relevant strategic drug-related intelligence to formulate counterdrug policies. Further, it helps law enforcement personnel, educators, and prevention and treatment specialists establish priorities and allocate resources. The document may be accessed here.

From 2000 to 2014, nearly half a million Americans died from drug overdoses. Opioid overdose deaths, including both opioid pain relievers and heroin, hit record levels in 2014, with an alarming 14 percent increase in just one year, according to new data published today in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The most commonly prescribed opioid pain relievers, those classified as natural or semi-synthetic opioids such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, continue to be involved in more overdose deaths than any other opioid type. These deaths increased by 9 percent (813 more deaths in 2014 than 2013).

More babies are being born with opioid withdrawal symptoms in rural communities than in urban areas, according to a new study. Neonatal abstinence syndrome, which occurs when a fetus is exposed to prescription opiates or heroin while in utero, appears to be on the rise in rural areas, according to a study published on Dec. 12 in JAMA Pediatrics. The study, led by University of Michigan researchers, found that for rural babies, cases of neonatal abstinence syndrome increased from nearly 1 case per 1,000 hospital births in 2003-2004 to 7.5 cases per 1,000 births by 2013.

Kentuckians who are struggling with an opioid addiction have a new website to help them buy naloxone, a life-saving medication that can reverse the effects of an overdose and offer a second chance to seek treatment. provides a map of more than 300 pharmacies across the state where people can obtain naloxone, often sold under the brand name Narcan. Visitors to the site can search for nearby venders by entering a city, county, or ZIP code. The Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy developed the website in partnership with the Advancing Pharmacy Practice in Kentucky Coalition, the Kentucky Agency for Substance Abuse Policy, and the Kentucky Board of Pharmacy.

The Virginia State Health Commissioner officially declared the Virginia opioid addiction problem a public health emergency. Dr. Marissa Levine also issued an order that allows Virginians to obtain the drug naloxone, sold under the brand name Narcan, without a prescription. Naloxone is an anti-opioid medication that can be used to treat narcotic overdoses and reverse their often fatal effects. Levine's order in effect serves as a prescription for the general public.

The Virginia Office of the Attorney General has launched a new website that hosts a documentary, education materials, a treatment resource locator, and other materials to help combat heroin and prescription drug and opioid abuse. The new website can be accessed here


Dr. Nora Volkow, Director, National Institute on Drug Abuse, has posted a blog in which she discusses implementation of new marijuana laws in some states and how science should guide public health policy. Access the post here.

The Supreme Court won't take up an appeal from a Native American church in Hawaii that wants to be exempt from federal marijuana laws. The Court let stand a lower court ruling that said laws banning the possession and distribution of cannabis do not interfere with church members' right to exercise their religion. The Oklevueha (AH'-kluh-vuh) Native American Church of Hawaii filed a lawsuit in 2009 asking for relief from marijuana laws under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The church's leader claims his members use marijuana during sweat lodge ceremonies to help regain their relationship with their creator. A district court ruled that the church did not produce enough evidence about its religion other than a strong belief in the benefits of marijuana. A federal appeals court upheld that ruling.

Marijuana businesses in Colorado, which voted to legalize the drug recreationally in 2012, reported roughly $1.1 billion in legal sales of medical and recreational marijuana and related products through October 2016, according to the latest batch of tax data from the state’s Department of Revenue. That number easily tops the roughly $996 million in total marijuana revenue the state reported in 2015.

Counterfeit Drugs

The U.S. Federal Drug Administration estimates that the United States is supplied with regulated healthcare devices and pharmaceutical ingredients by over 300,000 foreign facilities from across 150 countries as estimated by the USFDA. The World Health Organization calculations suggest over 1% of all drugs in developed nations are counterfeit representing a drug market that may be worth billions and lead to countless loss of lives. The US-based Centre for Medicines in the public interest estimated that counterfeit drug sales were worth over US$ 75 billion globally in 2014. WHO estimates also show that over 10% of drugs are counterfeit in developing countries with up to 30% fake drugs in extreme cases registered in some developing countries. Asia-Pacific accounts for the largest share of counterfeit trade happening across the world.


Last year, 149 people were killed in drug-related traffic crashes in Wisconsin. This is a nearly a 200 percent increase over the previous decade, according to Wisconsin Department of Transportation statistics. To help combat this deadly crisis, the Wisconsin Department of Justice and WisDOT have teamed up to produce new TV and radio public service announcements that warn of the dangers of drugged driving. Premiered at a news conference in Madison on Wednesday, the TV and radio messages are part of DOJ’s “Dose of Reality” campaign to combat prescription drug abuse and WisDOT’s “Zero In Wisconsin” effort to prevent traffic crashes. The ad, titled, “Drugged Driving,” compares the dangers of driving under the influence of prescription drugs to the dangers of driving under the influence of alcohol. The TV spot may be viewed on You Tube.

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

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