SALINA — Saline is one of 12 counties in central and western Kansas identified as target areas for additional support based on data on the dosages of opioids prescribed and opioid overdose deaths.

Those 12 counties — which also include Thomas, Dickinson, McPherson and Ellis — are the focus of programs being funded through a nearly $1 million federal grant announced in August for Salina’s Central Kansas Foundation. The grant will pay for increasing the use of an assessment tool to identify opioid abusers, expanding access to a nonaddictive opioid withdrawal management medication and improving access to evidence-based, medication-assisted treatment and psychosocial treatment.

“There’s a lot of attention on opioids right now for good reasons because of the overdose rates with opiate use,” said Shane Hudson, vice president of clinical operations at CKF.

Nationwide, drug overdoses are the leading cause of death for Americans younger than age 50. In 2016, that was not yet true in Kansas, where car crashes killed 381 people and 310 deaths were attributed to drug poisoning, according to state statistics.

However, that could change quickly with the arrival of illicitly manufactured fentanyl, heroin and similar drugs that have become widespread and deadly in other areas of the country.

Meth more common

Capt. Paul Forrester, of the Salina Police Department, said officers haven’t seen a real influx of opioids in the area — although there always have been a certain number of people who abuse the drugs.

“There have always been pills, but there hasn’t been a huge spike in activity here,” Forrester said. “We are trying to get ahead of the curve by doing some training and research.”

Forrester said much of the spike in opioid overdose deaths seen in states such as Ohio is related to a powder form of fentanyl being purchased online and sold on the street, as well as an increasing use of heroin.

In Salina, methamphetamine remains the most common drug addiction police encounter.

Using other meds

Hudson said meth and alcohol see high levels of abuse in Salina, but for many addicts the drug of choice is determined by what is most accessible. If the availability of opioids increases, the number of overdoses is likely to rise as well.

He said since opioids are so addictive and powerful, it’s important to properly dispose of pills when they are no longer needed.

In the medical profession, there is a push for shorter prescriptions and for the use of non-opiates for pain control in circumstances not thought to be life-threatening. Hudson said in Europe, opioids are prescribed only if a person has a chronic, life-ending illness with extreme pain. For temporary pain relief following surgery, for example, different types of non-opioid pain medication are utilized.

Treatment options

Hudson said when CKF works with patients who are trying to overcome an opioid addiction, some are able to stay clean and sober without medication, but others benefit from either long-term or short-term medically assisted treatment. CKF is working to develop a wider network of doctors who can prescribe Suboxone, which helps to control cravings by binding with the same receptors in the brain as opioids but producing a less powerful response. The pill also contains naloxone, which is an opioid antagonist, so if it is crushed and snorted it won’t produce a high.

The medication is used to stabilize patients with opioid addictions so they are able to participate effectively in other needed therapy and regain a productive life, Hudson said. The combination of medication and therapy addresses a person’s brain processes and cognitive aspects of his or her behavior.

Hudson said addiction is more than just a physical dependence. Many people have a physical dependence on prescribed medications — such as blood pressure medication, insulin or even allergy medication. If people stopped taking these medications, they would experience withdrawal symptoms, but they can live stable, healthy lives while using the medication.

Drug use becomes addiction if a person continues to take the drug even after it results in negative consequences in his or her life, Hudson said.