The ASTHO Take: A Week in Public Health News (October 9)

October 09, 2015|4:16 p.m.| Virgie Townsend

Must-read news for leaders in public health.

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More Than 70 Percent of American Used Prescription Painkillers in Past Year, But Even More Support Policies to Address Prescription Drug Abuse

New research from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has found that more than one in four American took prescription painkillers in the last year, even as 58 percent say that prescription drug abuse is a very serious or extremely serious public health issue.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that 52 million people in the United States have used prescription drugs nonmedically, and 14 percent meet the criteria for abuse or dependence on the drugs. Prescription drug misuse and abuse has become a leading cause of injury death, and about 475,000 emergency room visits are related to prescription painkillers every year.

"This study shows that many Americans have had direct experience using prescription pain relievers and a sizable share have misused or abused these medications themselves or have close friends or family members who have done so," says study leader Colleen Barry, an associate professor at the Bloomberg School.

The new Bloomberg study explored perceptions around prescription drug abuse issues and public support for potential policy changes. It found that 84 percent of respondents favor requiring pharmacies to verify patient identification before providing prescription painkillers, 83 percent support requiring medical schools and residency programs to train doctors on how to detect and treat prescription painkiller addiction, and 82 percent favor requiring medical schools and residency programs to train physicians to treat chronic pain properly.

In a recent briefing, White House Office on National Drug Control Policy Director Michael Botticelli said that over-prescription is a key component driving the prescription painkiller abuse epidemic. In an ASTHO-WebMD Twitter chat on prescription drug abuse in May 2014, the CDC National Center for Injury Prevention and Control tweeted: “Enough prescription painkillers are sold each year to medicate every U.S. adult all day, every day for one month.”

In 2014, former ASTHO President and Oklahoma Health Commissioner Terry Cline challenged the states and territories to reduce prescription drug abuse and deaths by 15 percent. As a result of the challenge, ASTHO published a 2014 Policy Inventory on State Action to Prevent and Treat Prescription Drug Abuse, which detailed how 48 states, two territories, and one freely associated state are working to address prescription drug abuse.

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ASTHO Executive Director Paul Jarris Accepts New Role at March of Dimes

In “sad for us, but happy for him” news, ASTHO Executive Director Paul Jarris has announced that he will step down at the end of the year to assume a new role at the March of Dimes. As the March of Dimes’ new Senior Vice President, Maternal and Child Health Program Impact and Deputy Medical Officer, he will have overall responsibility for the March of Dimes' Prematurity Campaign, which seeks to reduce the rate of preterm birth—the number one cause of death among babies in the United States, and an issue that is close to his heart.

“I am excited to be joining the March of Dimes, an organization that has had as great an impact on public health as any organization in this country and around the world,” says Jarris. “Some of my most gratifying work at ASTHO were the partnerships we were able to build between state health agencies and the March of Dimes. I look forward to continuing this work. We have already made tremendous gains. Now is the time to seize that momentum and ensure that all moms and babies have the best chance possible for a healthy start to life.”

In the nine-and-a-half years that Jarris has led ASTHO, it has grown into a premier institution vital to promoting and safeguarding health and wellness across states and territories, as well as the authoritative source of information on state and territorial public health. Under his guidance, the staff grew from 45 to 110 and budget increased from $9 million to $30 million, while still remaining a desirable place to work. In 2013, Washingtonian Magazine recognized ASTHO as a top-50 employer in the Washington, DC area.

Thank you for your leadership, Paul. We look forward to seeing the great things you will accomplish with the March of Dimes.

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For the First Time Since March 2014, No New Ebola Cases in West Africa

Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia may have just turned a corner in the fight against Ebola, which has killed more than 11,000 people in West Africa in the worst-ever outbreak of the virus. For the first time since the beginning of the outbreak in March 2014, all three of the countries reported no new cases.

This a milestone in the fight against Ebola, but the countries and survivors still need help with recovery. WHO plans to extend its Ebola response through mid-2016. Additionally, many Ebola survivors have reported a wide range of long-term health issues related to the virus, even though they are no longer contagious. Ian Cozier, a doctor who contracted Ebola while volunteering in Sierra Leone, said during IDWeek 2015 that he has experienced severe vision issues, short-term memory challenges, hearing loss, seizures, and back pain. On Friday, a Scottish nurse who beat Ebola nine months ago was admitted to the hospital due to complications from the disease.

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