Peyton Kraus
KU Statehouse Wire Service
The House Social Services Committee held an informational briefing on the opioid problem Feb. 1, with a focus on the use of K-TRACS, Kansas’ drug monitoring program, to track the use of these drugs as the funding for the program begins to run low.
Rep. Brenda Landwehr (R-Wichita) opened the meeting by stating “I didn’t see a crisis—yet,” referring to opioid overuse in Kansas. Testimonies came from The Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Kansas Board of Pharmacy, Kansas Hospital Association and Kansas Health Institute.
Although Landwehr and others say opioid abuse is not at a crisis level in Kansas, opioid abuse is prevalent. According to the Kansas Health Institute, 1,500 Kansans died from drug poisoning between 2012 and 2016 with 45 percent of deaths related to the use of an opioid.
However, testimonies Thursday assured the issue is not as severe as in other states across the country, although a reason was unclear. There is some evidence that Kansas’ pro-active approach to track opioid prescriptions through K-TRACS, which began in 2011, might have played a role in avoiding a crisis. Seventy-one percent of those who are prescribe controlled substances in Kansas are registered in K-TRACS, which oversees the amount of substances are being prescribed.
As the opioid addiction and abuse has risen in other parts of the country, Landwehr said she hopes to stay ahead of the problem while making sure those who need the medication for pain management have access to it.
“Let’s once again get ahead of it before it becomes a crisis in Kansas, but how do we do it so we can do it smart and not just hurt individuals?” Landwehr said.
The balancing act between overuse of opioids and the actual need for them in many patients’ cases was emphasized across testimonies Thursday. Opioid prescriptions are still necessary, but the misuse of them have made it harder for patients to get them, according to Greg Lakin, Chief Medical Officer of Kansas Department of Health and Environment.
“If we legislate the prescribing of opioids to such a degree that it has such a chilling effect out there, then they are going to be in a place where they can’t get care,” Lakin said.
Another discussion emphasized the need to consider additional funding for K-TRACS in the future. Currently, funding comes from a combination of state programs such as the Board of Pharmacy, Board of Healing Arts, Board of Nursing, Dental Board and Board of Optometry and grant funding from the state as a recipient under Kansas Department of Health and Environment. Grants will run out by June 30, 2019, according the Kansas Pharmacy Board, so testimonies from Lakin and Kansas Pharmacy Board’s Executive Secretary Alexandra Blasi asked for the committee’s assistance by considering additional funding in their upcoming budget meetings. According to Blasi, it would cost about $800,000 bare minimum to keep the program running as is, but recommended more funding to improve research and resources.
Budget meetings for the committee begin next week.
Peyton Kraus is a University of Kansas junior majoring in journalism from Minneapolis.