Alabama to participate in learning lab to combat deadly opioid epidemic

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Inappropriate opioid prescribing has fueled one of the deadliest drug epidemics in our nation’s history, claiming the lives of 78 people every day.

Though prescription opioid painkillers have driven a steady increase in drug-related overdose deaths over the last 15 years, heroin and illicit fentanyl have led to a more-recent spike in deaths.

In the midst of the current opioid crisis, Gov. Robert Bentley on Monday announced Alabama has been selected to participate in a National Governors Association learning lab to help combat the ongoing opioid epidemic. Through the learning lab, Alabama will build on existing efforts by developing and implementing strategic action plans for reducing overdoses and deaths related to heroin and fentanyl.

“As a physician, and as a governor, I understand the importance of fighting prescription drug abuse,” Bentley said. “Alabama is the highest painkiller-prescribing state in the nation and non-medical use of pain relievers in Alabama exceeds the national average. This has fueled an unprecedented resurgence of heroin in the state.”

Bentley continued, “I know that our team, through the NGA Learning Lab, will continue to build on our existing efforts to combat opioid abuse in our state and will return with new, innovative ideas to put an end to this deadly epidemic.”

The Alabama team that will be working as part of the NGA Learning Lab includes:

  • Sarah Harkless: Team leader; Director of Substance Abuse Treatment and Development, Alabama Department of Mental Health
  • David White: Health Policy Advisor to Gov. Bentley
  • Nancy Bishop: State Pharmacy Director, Alabama Department of Public Health
  • Karen Smith: Associate Director of Clinics/Ancillary Services and Mental Health Programs, Alabama Medicaid Agency
  • Bob Steelman: Investigator, Alabama Board of Medical Examiners
  • Denise Shaw: Court Management Analyst, Alabama Administrative Office of Courts

NGA learning labs provide an opportunity for a small group of state teams to learn about the details of a state program that is successfully putting an innovative practice in place. This is a six-month opportunity for governors’ senior staff and other state officials to receive technical assistance.

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