Opioid task force meeting held by Nevada Attorney General Adam Laxalt
Attorney General Adam Laxalt on Thursday held his first opioid task force meeting, saying his goal is to close what he sees as the gap in ongoing efforts to get the epidemic under control.
While he praised the work of Gov. Brian Sandoval’s Opioid Task Force, Laxalt said the gap is the lack of real-time effective communication between all those that must deal with the epidemic from first responders and hospitals to health care and mental health providers and law enforcement. He said some of the data is two years old or more by the time it’s available.
He said everyone needs current information on hot spots, spikes in overdoses, bad drugs and deaths so they can respond. Getting everyone on the same page and opening effective lines of communication so everyone has up-to-date information, he said, is the only way to solve the problem.
“One of the barriers that exists right now is the sharing of data,” he said. “Nevada laws are going to be changed to require some specific reporting.”
But that raises potential conflicts with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) which provides data privacy for patient medical information.
However, Terry Kerns, the AG’s Substance Abuse Law Enforcement Coordinator, said she believes real time notification and exchange of information on opioid cases is possible without violating patient privacy. She said there are even mapping systems available to let all stakeholders know “what is the current picture going on in our county, state.”
That, she said, would enable tracking of, for example, a sudden increase in heroin or other opioid ODs and deaths in a certain area. That would enable not only first responders, hospitals and medical providers to anticipate and deal with problems but law enforcement to focus on finding the culprits and community partners so they can get the word out there are bad drugs on the street.
“The biggest concern from law enforcement partners is that we do have some potent drugs out there on the streets,” said Kerns.
She said even information just six months old is of no use in those situations.
She said notification systems are already in place to handle outbreaks of infectious diseases and food health outbreaks but not for spikes in problems with drugs such as opioids.
She and Laxalt said the goal of this task force is to find and eliminate the barriers to establishing real time reporting and communication about opioid and other drug issues.
But Dr. Anthony Slonim, president and CEO of Renown Health in Reno, said his concern is whether “we’re looking through the legal lens or the health care lens and focusing on public health or the individual.”
He said that raises those privacy issues and the concern an individual may be exposed.
Laxalt said those are things that will have to be worked out but he believes a balance can be found.
And Linda Anderson, his chief deputy dealing with the privacy issues, said the information that system will collect and distribute won’t violate individual privacy. The information, she said, will be “anonymized, de-identified.” She said it will only feature such data as where the case occurred, was it fatal or an OD, the drug involved and whether Naloxone (an opioid antidote) was administered.
She said there would be no information specifically about the person.
Laxalt said this is the first of numerous meetings on the subject and he will have staff put together small working groups to handle the different issues.
But he said he doesn’t know whether the process of creating an effective, real time reporting system will take a couple of months or a couple of years.