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Opioid concerns in Mississippi intensify

The Associated Press

Mississippi officials are worried that the state could end up with an opioid problem like other states that have battled with drug addiction.

Gov. Phil Bryant on Tuesday issued an executive order creating an Opioid and Heroin Study Task Force.

The state hasn’t seen the dramatic increases in deaths related to the misuse of prescription pain pills that places like Kentucky and Alabama have seen. Mississippi had 336 deaths in 2014, according to the CDC data. That constitutes a seven percent increase, which is not considered statistically significant. Neighboring Alabama, for example, had a 20 percent increase in opioid-related deaths between 2013 and 2014, with 723 deaths.

But officials are still worried.

“People have got to wake up,” said John Dowdy, director of the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics. “We are on the same pattern that these other states were.”

Part of the worry comes from the fact that Mississippi has a high rate of opioid prescriptions. The paper reports that four out of five heroin users become addicted through the use of prescription opioids. A 2014 CDC analysis found that Mississippians received prescription pain pills at a rate of 120 prescriptions per 100 people.

“This is a public health crisis in the making,” said Mississippi State epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers.

Opioids can depress respiration, leading to unconsciousness and death. As people use opioids more regularly, they develop a tolerance and need to take higher and higher doses to achieve the effect.