PMC physician, others address opioid crisis in KY

Teddy Paynter

PIKEVILLE — Pikeville Medial Center (PMC) Chief of Staff and Medical Director of Infection Control and Infectious Disease Dr. Fadi Al Akhrass was among current and future health care providers who gathered to discuss the opioid addiction problem across Kentucky.


"It's important for drug users to not exchange needles to avoid complications such as hepatitis C and HIV," Dr. Akhrass told those gathered for the Provider Education Substance Use Disorder event held on the University of Pikeville campus on Oct. 3. "It's not the perfect solution but it's a start."


He said many drug users face a number of medical complications when it comes to years of abuse.


"We are facing a serious epidemic in not only our state but our country," Dr. Akhrass said. "Sadly, many lose limbs and a high number die as a result."


Hepatitis C has affected more than 53,000 in Kentucky. Each one of those individuals has the potential to infect up to 20 others.


Dr. Akhrass said legislators in Frankfort can play a big role in slowing down the progress of abuse.


"Our leaders in state government can and must play a big part in helping us battle the crisis," he added.


By placing a three-day limit on opioid prescriptions for acute pain, such as removal of wisdom teeth, lawmakers are hoping House Bill 333 will hit the epidemic where it starts – prescriptions from well-intending physicians.


"There is a card on your table that says 1,404 deaths from overdose was an all-time high for our state in 2016," Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) Executive Director Jared Arnett said. "It's a serious problem that needs our attention."


Dr. Ardis Dee Hoven, current professor of medicine at the University of Kentucky's College of Medicine said it comes down to rural communities needing education on needle exchange.


"We need to reach out as providers and physicians to those abusing drugs," she said. "Residents in Kentucky average 26.7 percent for being as risk. West Virginia's number is 56.3 percent."


More than 500,000 people died from 2000-15 from opioids.


"Each and every person here today, many who run a medical practice, has an opportunity to play a role in alternatives on how to manage pain," Arnett added.


WellCare of Kentucky President Bill Jones announced a $25,000 Hyper Local grant to combat the epidemic.


"A small amount in the grand scheme of things is a start," he said.


The session began by discussing Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, or drug dependency in newborns.


A high-rate of opioid addiction in newborns has placed expecting mothers across eastern Kentucky, at high risk.


Senior Deputy Commissioner for the Kentucky Department for Public Health Dr. Connie Gale White said 18-44 year-old women across the state lead the nation in overdose deaths.


The day-long event was hosted by SOAR.


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