By Terrence Johnson
Mississippi Capitol Press Corps
The opioid epidemic continues to claim the lives of many people throughout the nation. Opioid addiction has forced change within federal and state government and prompted some leaders to to take action to decrease death rates within the state.
“I saw this problem rise in Mississippi and nationally,” said Rep. Joel Bomgar (R-Madison) “There didn’t seem to be enough energy and resources to really dig in, figure out what was going on, and come up with solutions.”
Bomgar is an entrepreneur who represents Madison and Ridgeland in the state House of Representatives. He serves on several committees within the House, such as the Drug Policy Committee, the Corrections Committee, the Judiciary Committee, and the Medicaid Committee.
Bomgar plans to introduce a bill that provides nine ways to properly combat the epidemic within our state.
“These things won’t stop it entirely, but it will make things as good as they can be legislatively,” added Bomgar.
The bills first nine elements encourages treatment facilities by removing a certificate of need requirement for drug treatment centers. Certificate of need laws make it difficult to open new drug treatment centers to combat opioid addiction. These drug facilities are necessary to properly treat people with a problem.
The bill will also expand the Good Samaritan Overdose Prevention Policy to make people feel comfortable with calling the police in the case of an overdose without the worry of being taken to jail for possession.
“We need them to be safe calling 911,” Bomgar said.
It will also enable telemedicine providers to treat opioid induced disorders.
“Mississippi is a very rural state,” Bomgar said. “Without telemedicine, we are never going to have enough opioid treatment centers close enough for people who need help to make it viable,” said Bomgar.
The bill would prevent Medicaid from imposing prior authorization for medication assisted treatment. It requires the Board of Licensure to apply primary care physicians to taper patients with opioid use disorder.
“So instead of cutting them off immediately,” said Bomgar. “As long as you are in the process of tapering them or getting them into treatment, you can work with them to keep them from going to the street.”
The bill will also encourage treatment centers at the local level and provide diversion treatment instead of going into the criminal justice system.
In drug courts within the state and in treatment, there is a need for medicated assisted treatment. This will eliminate the need for opioids by providing more viable substitutes.
Many state officials support the bill within the house and other offices.
“Opioid is different because it affects all ages and economic statuses,” said Attorney General Hood in a private interview this week. “Doctors have prescribed it, so its ‘OK’ versus some hippie cooking it up in a bathtub with meth that can kill you.”
Attorney General Hood is a former district attorney who tried more than 100 jury cases in his tenure dealing with multiple drug, mental health, and other areas. Hood works actively to bring awareness, provide prevention for the state, and treatment rehabilitation.
“That’s an area where I work hard to try to get our legislature to appropriate money to treat those people with an addiction,” said Hood.
Hood joined 37 other attorney generals in an effort to fight against the addictive drugs that are impacting the lives of Mississippi by the thousands.
General Hood, along with a bipartisan coalition of states and territories, sent a letter to America’s Health Insure Plans, encouraging the use of alternatives to treat chronic and non-cancer pain.
“I’ve sued all the manufacturers of opioids because they violated our Consumer Protection Act,” Hood said. “They went around and told all the doctors these are man-made synthetic forms of opioids, that they are not similar to morphine.”
Within the 135-page lawsuit lay details of how the Purdue Pharma—manufacture of Oxycontin, the pill receiving the most claim of inappropriately marketing —Johnson & Johnson, and others allegedly “pushed highly addictive, dangerous opioids, falsely representing to doctors that patients would only rarely succumb to drug addiction.”
To accompany the lawsuit, Hood said there has been a change in police officer training.
“We are training them with mental health [physicians],” continued Hood. “A lot of people are self-medicating, so we are training law enforcement on how to identify someone who has an underlying mental health issue to deescalate that situation.”
Police officers will also provide contact information to mental health physicians and move them to facilities where they can be safe and treated.
Terrence Johnson, 22, is a University of Mississippi journalism major. After graduating from the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science in Columbus, Johnson came to Oxford to pursue a life-changing experience. He is part of University of Mississippi Gospel, an orientation leader, and is part of APEX Leadership. Johnson is passionate about helping others be their best selves. He enjoys opportunities that require interacting with people and offer relationship building and community engagement. In his free time, Terrence enjoys seeing and performing in the arts. He has been singing since he was 4, and he currently sings with the University Men’s Chorus as a Tenor II. In all of his work, Johnson “tells underdog stories with civility and respect.”