Attorney General: Opioid deaths impacting every Mississippi community

Attorney General: Opioid deaths impacting every Mississippi community
Photo credit: WDAM

MISSISSIPPI (WDAM) - In Mississippi, one in ten people misuse prescription drugs and Attorney General Jim Hood says something needs to be done to stop the growing epidemic across the state.

"We've got 70 pills for every man, woman and child in Mississippi for opioids and that's pushing the epidemic," Hood said Monday before speaking to the Bay Springs Rotary Club in Jasper County.  "People go to the doctor to get help, not to overdose."

Hood says Mississippi is a leading prescriber of opioid painkillers.  In 2016, there were over 200 deaths linked to the prescription pills, the highest in state history.

"What happens is people get on the opioids and the doctors don't give them anymore and they turn to heroin," Hood said.  "And that's when they overdose with fentanyl-laced heroin or just heroin overdoses, and that's hitting every community."

Hood says he saw the destruction first hand and that's when he knew something had to be done.  Hood says a friend's son, a war veteran who served two tours in Iraq, was given painkillers by a doctor after returning home with a shoulder injury.  Hood says after dealing with addiction, the man got clean and started law school.  During that time, he started working to the Attorney General's Office when he didn't show up for work.  Hood says when they called his wife to check on his, he had overdosed.

"We have our heroes dying because they got addicted to a substance they thought was not as addictive as opiates in the old days," Hood said.

Opioid drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the United States, with more than 40 people dying every day from overdoses involving prescription drugs, according to the Centers for Disease Control,.

Hood says a big battle against the growing epidemic has to do with the drug manufacturers.  In December of 2015, the Attorney General's office filed a complaint in Hinds County against a number of pharmaceutical companies.

"What the drug companies did, they went around with representatives and said it wasn't addictive, that there were studies that showed that," Hood said.  "When that is not true, there were never any studies done."

Other states have since filed similar suits against drug manufacturers.

Mississippi does have a state prescription monitoring system, but Hood said he isn't sure all doctors are checking that before prescribing medication.  Hood said he's working with organizations to put stricter policies in place.  If that doesn't work, he said he would like to see a state law.

Owner of Standard Drugs in Bay Springs, Terry Phillips, said he has had people come in for opioids who were not approved.

"If its an opioid or controlled substance, we do the prescription monitoring program to make sure they aren't getting those types of prescriptions at multiple pharmacies," Phillips said.  "We have a responsibility, making sure that the right medicine gets into the right hands."

Hood also says state budget cuts are hindering treatment programs across the state, especially with cuts to the Department of Mental Health and Medicaid.  Hood said he's sent individuals to jail who need drug treatment, but have nowhere to go.

"We're going to have to spend some money to save these people who have gotten addicted to opioids," Hood said.

Multiple state agencies are joining together to host an Opioid Town Hall in Hattiesburg Tuesday, June 27th.  During the event, there will be a panel with representatives from across Mississippi and the local community.  The agencies say the goal is for attendees to learn more about the opioid abuse and what you can do to help reduce the death and destruction caused by opioid addiction.

Opioid Town Hall

  • Tuesday, June 27, 2017
  • 6:30 p.m.
  • Lake Terrace Convention Center: 1 Convention Center Plaza, Hattiesburg