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California Health Officials Tackle Opioid Crisis With Help From Counties


President Donald Trump declared the opioid epidemic a national public health crisis last month, but didn’t specify any new funding to combat the problem. California health officials say their efforts to reduce overdose deaths are already in full swing.

“At this point it’s a little hard to anticipate what exactly the results may be,” said Dr. Karen Smith, director of the California Department of Public Health. “We really aren’t sure how that’s going to actually play out, what the specific implications are for action. But there’s no question that it’s very important to have very public national recognition of the issue.”

California already receives funding from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to address the opioid crisis. They’ve gotten more than $10 million in federal and state grants since 2015.

There were 1,925 opioid-related deaths in California in 2016, up from 1,449 in 2014. Most happened in rural northern counties.

To combat the problem, the state health department is funding community coalitions in 16 counties where opioid overdoses are most prevalent. The coalitions gather law enforcement, local government, regional funders and substance abuse workers to provide public education and encourage safe prescription practices.

“That’s one of the most exciting pieces of this work because that’s where I see a level of sustainability irrespective of federal funding,” Smith said.

A new law that takes effect in January will require all California physicians to consult the national database of patient prescription histories before putting someone on a new drug.

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