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Free help offered for Mississippi drug addicts through statewide initiative

Ocean Springs man shares his story of opioid addiction

Greg Bufkin of Ocean Springs took the opioid Lortab for migraine headaches. He became addicted, taking as many as 90 pills a day. He had two overdoses from pills that were made with fentanyl. He has now recovered and runs a ministry for addicts.
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Greg Bufkin of Ocean Springs took the opioid Lortab for migraine headaches. He became addicted, taking as many as 90 pills a day. He had two overdoses from pills that were made with fentanyl. He has now recovered and runs a ministry for addicts.

Mississippi doctors are writing fewer prescriptions for opioids, but help is available for the many people addicted to narcotic drugs even if they think they can’t afford it, a mental health spokeswoman says.

Stand Up Mississippi, a statewide initiative, has received a $14 million grant to continue offering free help for another two years, said Angela Mallette, outreach coordinator for the Mississippi Department of Mental Health. The State Opioid Response grant is from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and is the initiative’s second grant from SAMSA since 2017.

The initiative offers free recovery stays and follow-up help to make sure “those in recovery can transition to healthy and productive lives,” Mallette said.

The program will continue to provide naloxone, known as Narcon, to first-responders for use in life-threatening situations involving drug overdoses. Anyone who wants a dose if needed for a loved one or friend can get one for free with no questions asked.

The program also will continue its medication-assisted treatment, which provides free medicines such as suboxone and buprenorphine to help recovering addicts deal with withdrawals.

The program soon will offer a Tele-MAT option for recovering addicts who live in rural areas without doctors authorized to write prescriptions for those medications, “which don’t make you high,” Mallette said.

People in Natchez, for instance, would be able to speak with a doctor in a telephone conference to discuss prescriptions, she said.

Mallette said the state’s opioid problem is not as bad as in some other states. A total of 256 drug overdose deaths were reported in the state in 2017, according to Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics Director John Dowdy. About 74 percent of the deaths were attributed to opioids, he said. Coroners are required to notify the MBN of all overdose deaths.

Fewer scrips

Mississippi has enacted a law that requires doctors and nurse practitioners check the state’s online Prescription Monitoring Plan before writing prescriptions for narcotics. Previously, only pharmacists were required to check the PMP to make sure people are not doctor-shopping or doctors are not writing an abundance of narcotic prescriptions.

That has, in part, cut down on the number of prescriptions being written.

The PMP, maintained by the state Board of Pharmacy, has shown a 26 percent decrease in opioid prescriptions filled statewide, Mallette said.

In 2016, Mississippi doctors wrote prescriptions for 201 million doses of opioid pills. With a state population of 2.9 million, “that was enough to put 67 pills in the pockets of everyone in the state,” she said.

In 2018, doctors prescribed 150 million doses, “enough for everyone to have 50 pills,” Mallette said.

“That’s still a lot, but a decrease is a good thing,” she said.

The PMP received 1.5 million requests for opioids in 2016, 1.7 million in 2018 and 2.7 million in 2018, an overall increase of about 57 percent, according to Mallette.

The PMP does not show why the pills were prescribed, she said. And no one knows how many legally prescribed pills are sold illegally on the street.

Where to get help

Anyone in Mississippi can receive free drug treatment regardless of where they live in the state or where they want to receive the treatment.

On the Mississippi Coast, in-patient treatment is available at Crossroads Recovery Center in Gulfport and the Stevens Center in Gautier.

For information about the free programs, call 1-877-210-8513 or visit standupms.org.

Stand Up Mississippi previously received two $7.2 million grants from SAMSA after a task force made recommendations to Gov. Phil Bryant on possible solutions to reduce the number of opioid deaths and restore lives and families.

The task force includes members of the state Department of Mental Health, Department of Public Safety, Board of Pharmacy, Bureau of Narcotics, Department of Human Services, Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Enforcement Administration.

The heads of those departments have attended town hall meetings in support of the program all over the state.

“They weren’t paid to do it, but they did it because they care,” Mallette said.

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Robin Fitzgerald covers real-time news, such as crime, public safety and trending stories. In nearly 40 years as a journalist, her highest honors include investigative awards for covering the aftermath of the fatal beating of a Harrison County jail inmate in 2006 and related civil rights violations. She is a Troy University graduate.


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