Raising awareness key to ending suicide, opioid addiction epidemic

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Dana Hess
Community News Service

PIERRE — During presentations about suicide and opioid addiction, a legislative committee learned about the importance of public awareness.

Earlier this month, the House Health and Human Services Committee heard from representatives of the departments of Health and Social Services about those topics.

While opioid overdoses aren’t as prevalent in South Dakota as they are nationwide, the state does have an ongoing suicide problem.

“Suicide is a pressing public health issue,” said Department of Health Secretary Kim Malsam-Rysdon.

Dr. Joshua Clayton, the state epidemiologist, told the committee that South Dakota has the 13th highest suicide rate in the nation with a rate of 18.6 suicide deaths per 100,000 population. The U.S. suicide rate is 13.9 per 100,000. Two South Dakota counties, Corson and Todd, rank in the top one percent of the highest suicide rates in the United States.

One of the keys to preventing suicide is to get communities involved, according to Department of Social Services Secretary Lynne Valenti. To that end, the departments have developed suicide prevention toolkits for communities that include data, evidence-based prevention strategies and steps that can be taken for a community-wide effort.

“Local communities really have to take leadership,” Malsam-Rysdon said, noting suicides may be specific to a particular community or to a specific population in that community.

Rep. Wayne Steinhauer, R-Hartford, chairman of the House committee, asked how the Legislature could help.

Rather than looking for funding, Malsam-Rysdon said the Legislature’s best role may be in helping to raise awareness.

“There’s not a way to legislate our way out of this,” Malsam-Rysdon said.

Tom Martinec, a director with the Department of Health, told the committee that while there were 20,000 opioid overdoses nationally in 2016, in South Dakota there were 39 — 31 from overuse of prescription medications and seven from use of illicit opioids.

Martinec said the problems in South Dakota are “not as pronounced as it is in other states. There’s still a lot of opioid use in South Dakota.”

In 2015 enough opioids were prescribed in South Dakota, according to Martinec, to medicate every person in the state for 19 straight days.

Rep. Leslie Heinemann, R-Flandreau was a proponent of more public awareness about what patients can expect as far as pain control is concerned. A dentist, Heinemann, said he rarely prescribes opioids.

“We need to think about how much we’re willing to tolerate,” Heinemann said about pain. “Public awareness is so important.”

Martinec agreed, “There’s a huge culture change with this issue that needs to happen.”

Advertisements from the Centers for Disease Control will soon start appearing in South Dakota with a message about ways to look at pain relief, Martinec said.

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