TOPEKA — Gov. Jeff Colyer on Thursday delivered a grim assessment of the state’s emerging opioid epidemic, ordering a new task force to figure out in six months why substance abuse is happening in Kansas and what can be done about it.
Pointing to rising numbers of overdose deaths, Colyer called the epidemic a scourge that destroys families and wreaks havoc on the workforce.
“Substance abuse disorders not only damage the lives of those who suffer from them but can have the ripple effects that affect every family member, their friends, their co-workers, their jobs and their entire communities,” Colyer said.
He signed an executive order creating the Task Force to Address Substance Use Disorders, which will involve leaders of 16 state agencies and offices, experts in medical and law enforcement fields, and legislators from both parties and chambers. Greg Lakin, chief medical officer at the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, will lead the effort.
The task force is asked to gather information on substance abuse, evaluate existing resources, examine best practices for prevention, treatment and recovery, make recommendations to the governor, and assist in implementing a response.
“We want to talk particularly about the growing number of opioid, heroin and meth overdoses in our state,” Colyer said.
KDHE recorded 35 drug overdose deaths in 2000 and 159 in 2016, Colyer said. Nationwide, 115 people die every day from overdoes, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control.
Grant money from CDC supports a statewide, electronic health records system called K-Tracs, which can be used for tracking prescription drugs. Reporting from hospitals, clinics and pharmacies is voluntary, but Alexandra Blasi, executive director of the Kansas Board of Pharmacy, said it is significant that more than 70 percent participate.
Health care providers can use the system to look at a patient’s prescription history when making decisions on how best to treat them, Blasi said.
Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, and House Majority Leader Don Hineman, R-Dighton, praised the governor for his urgency in considering opioids a serious issue for Kansas.
“It’s a growing and emerging problem, and we need to get ahead of it,” Hineman said. “The time is now.”