Anecdotal evidence from prosecutors across the state indicates opioid abuse is growing in Kansas, Attorney General Derek Schmidt said, but he urged lawmakers not to forget the state’s ongoing methamphetamine problem.
Schmidt answered questions about the issue Thursday from a panel of lawmakers in Topeka.
Citing anecdotes from county attorneys and statewide health department data on drug poisonings, Schmidt said he believes Kansas has so far been spared the full extent of the opioid crisis that states farther east are reporting. But he told lawmakers they shouldn’t count on things staying that way.
“I do worry that, because the trend appears to be growing in Kansas, that the problem is headed our way,” he said.
Schmidt has joined a multistate initiative of attorneys general to investigate pharmaceutical companies that produce opioids.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report earlier this year pointed to greater opioid use in western and southeast parts of Kansas. According to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, Kansas has the 16th-highest opioid prescribing rate in the country and opioid overdose deaths grew between 2013 and 2015.
Schmidt said five years ago, county attorneys rarely mentioned heroin and prescription opioids as the substances plaguing their Kansas communities, but stories of problems surfacing across the state increased during the past few years.
“It’s also important from our vantage point to keep this discussion in Kansas in context of the overall problem we have with illicit narcotics on our streets,” Schmidt added. “We still have a very large methamphetamine problem.”
Schmidt told lawmakers he wanted to dispel any misunderstandings that the problem has been resolved just because Kansas Bureau of Investigation data on methamphetamine lab busts appears to indicate production has decreased.
“That doesn’t mean there’s less methamphetamine in the state,” he said. “It just means there’s less being manufactured here in the back of a pickup truck, or out in a barn on the back 40, or in an abandoned house.”
Unfortunately, he said, the market for methamphetamine remains.
“It’s being fed by out-of-state organizations that traffic meth,” he said.
Schmidt attributed the decline in methamphetamine lab busts to a 2005 state law that required pharmacies to keep cold medicines like Sudafed behind their counters. That made it more difficult for criminals to access the ingredients needed for methamphetamine production.
Asked about the multistate probe of opioid manufacturers, he declined to discuss any Kansas companies that are under investigation.
“We’re interested in an explanation for why the large number of opioid-based prescriptions has ballooned in recent years,” he said of the probe, “and whether it was truly a function of medical necessity and propriety or whether there might be other factors, such as marketing practices that played into that.”
Celia Llopis-Jepsen is a reporter for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach her on Twitter @Celia_LJ. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to kcur.org.