Governor Robert Bentley on Thursday signed Executive Order 27 creating the Alabama Council on Opioid Misuse and Addiction. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Alabama has seen a 19.7 percent increase in the state's drug-overdose death rate from 2013 to 2014. In Alabama, 723 people died in 2014 of drug overdoses, up from 598 in 2013.
The use of opioid pain relievers such as OxyContin, Percocet, and Lortab has been especially common in Alabama. The death rate in Alabama from drug overdoses was 14.9 deaths per 100,000 people compared to 14.8 deaths per 100,000 people nationwide. And in Alabama there were 5.8 million prescriptions equaling 1.2 per person in Alabama.
"Alabama is the highest painkiller prescribing state in the nation and nonmedical use of pain relievers in Alabama exceeds the national average. This is unacceptable," Governor Bentley said. "Through the Alabama Council on Opioid Misuse and Addiction, we will continue to build on our existing efforts to combat opioid abuse in our state and will return with new innovative ideas to put an end to this deadly epidemic."
State Health Officer Dr. Tom Miller said, "We are pleased Governor Bentley has created this council to address the opioid epidemic that is destroying the lives of too many Alabamians in both rural and urban areas. We are hopeful that, by working with our partners, we will find solutions to reverse this escalating crisis."
Inappropriate opioid prescribing has fueled one of the deadliest drug epidemics in our nation's history, claiming the lives of 78 people every day. Prescription opioid painkillers have driven a steady increase in drug-related overdose deaths over the last 15 years.
The Alabama Legislature has already worked to combat this issue. In 2013 two laws were passed: Act 2013-256 allows physicians' employees to get information from the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, which has been in place since 2006 and is run by the Alabama Department of Public Health and Act 2013-257 is aimed at shutting down or limiting "pill mills". Then in 2015, Act 2015-364 was passed allowing police officers to carry and administer naloxone, which can counteract overdoses of heroin and other narcotics. And in 2016, the Legislature passed Act 2016-307 which broadens naloxone access to individuals at risk of experiencing an opioid-related overdose, or their family members and friends, or anyone else in a position to assist such a person.
The Alabama Council on Opioid Misuse and Addiction will hold their first meeting within the next six weeks and will report to the Governor as soon as possible.