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Nevada's Future: Opioid crisis evolves

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It's been a little more than a year since AB474, or the Controlled Substance Abuse Prevention act took effect in Nevada.

Lawmakers passed the bill in the 2017 legislature when it was obvious Nevada was dealing with an opioid crisis.

Experts who are on the front lines of this fight say opioid abuse is a vast problem and evolving every day.

Doctor Stephanie Woodard, the senior advisor for the Department of Health and Human Services on Behavioral Health says since the law went into effect January 1st of 2018, opioid prescriptions have dropped in Nevada.

"We've actually seen about a 30 percent reduction in prescribing opioids statewide."

Woodard says decreasing the number of people being introduced to opioids was a main goal of the law.

She credits a 14 day limit on initial prescriptions and physicians requiring informed consent from patients as reasons for the drop.

Doctors are now better educating themselves and their patients about opioid addiction and overdose risks.

"We've also seen about a 57 percent reduction in the co-prescribing of opioids and benzodiazepines. One of the reasons why it's so important is because those two medications prescribed together have been one of the leading causes of prescription drug overdose as well as overdose deaths."

Lisa Lee speaks from experience when it comes to opioid addiction. She was a heroin addict 17 years ago and after many failed attempts in recovery, she is now 17 years clean and the program director of the peer services program at The Life Change Center.

The center in Sparks is one of only three "Integrated Opioid Treatment and Recovery Centers" or IOTRC in the state.

"Just medication alone isn't going to solve it. Just saying you are not going to use isn't going to solve it. It means you are likely to go back and if you go back you are more likely to die of an overdose."

Between two locations in Sparks and Carson City, The Life Change Center is at capacity, treating 750 patients both physiologically with medically assisted treatment and psychologically with social and environmental supports.

" You are going to groups, going to counseling, you are testing negative and you start to take home more privileges, so it's a comprehensive program."

Patients go every day and have access to three different medications to support recovery.

The Peer Recovery Specialists who counsel patients all have had substance, mental health issues or both in the past, but their experiences and success are proving to be powerful.

"Someone who inspires hope, because you made it out right? So that gives them a news possibility."

Lee says since the new law took effect last year the Life Change Center and the two others in the state have seen their patient numbers jump.

While opioid prescriptions have gone down in the state, some users with a dependence are switching to street drugs when they are cut off from prescriptions.

"We are seeing a sharp dramatic increase in seniors and those with disabilities that are turning to illegal substances because of the their dependence on opioids and I think that's an unanticipated consequence of the law."

Doctor Woodard says recent statistics show that trend of switching from prescription to illegal is turning deadly.

Fentanyl is being mixed into methamphetamine or heroin making it sometimes 50-100 times more potent than opioid prescriptions.

"We've seen methamphetamine deaths hold steady and increase over the last few years. People are using heroin and methamphetamine."

She says medication treatment centers like The Life Change Center are proven to be the gold standard in recovery of opioid addition.

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The challenge now is getting more people access to these comprehensive programs.

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