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State lawmakers announce grant to fight opioid overdoses

Brandon Moseley

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State Sens. Gerald Dial and Jim McClendon announced a new grant from Kaleo Pharmaceuticals that will provide every volunteer rescue squad truck in the state of Alabama with a potentially life-saving treatment for the growing number of opioid overdoses in the state.

Executives with Kaleo, state Representative Arnold Mooney, R-Indian Springs, officials with the Alabama Department of Public Health, state rescue squad leaders, and the Attorney General’s Office were on hand for the announcement in the historic Old House Chambers in Alabama’s state capitol building.

“I am excited to announce this grant donation by Kaleo Pharmaceuticals today,” Dial said. “Their gift – will literally save lives across Alabama. As our state has one of the highest rates per capita for prescribed opioids, we also have the highest number of opioid related overdoses and deaths. Regardless of how one becomes addicted to opioids, it is a loss to our families, communities and future.”

“Addicts do not intend to become addicted,” McClendon said. “There was no intention to forego their families, jobs, and friends. Addicts often gain their addiction via legally prescribed pain kills, opioids in particular, while others become addicted by recreational use of addictive drugs.”

State Health Officer Dr. Scott Harris said in a statement, “Increasing access to naloxone is one tool the Alabama Department of Public Health *ADPH) is using to stem the tide of what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called the ‘Worst drug overdose epidemic’ in United States history. In December 2016, ADPH issued a standing order to ensure the availability of naloxone to any person who is at risk of experiencing an opioid-related overdose, or to an individual in a position to assist someone at risk of experiencing such an overdose.”

The Executive Secretary of the Alabama Board of Pharmacy Susan Alverson said, “Pharmacists are readily accessible health care providers who can play a vital role in reducing fatal opioid overdoses through the administration and provision of naloxone to both patients and caregivers.”

“In Alabama, pharmacists may dispense naloxone to patients or family members based on a standing order signed by the Director of the State Department of Public Health,” Alverson said.

“The Alabama Emergency Management Agency understand the opioid crisis is a matter of National Security and is a man-made disaster that is eating at the fabric of our families and communities,” Alabama EMA Director Brian Hastings said. “Powerful Public-Private Partnerships like this with Kaleo Pharmaceuticals increases the lifesaving capability of our volunteer organizations and are a critical part of the whole of government and community effort required to help addicts and families heal from the national scourge.”

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“Opioid abuse is a tragedy that strikes close to the hearts of communities throughout Alabama devastating families and destroying lives,” said Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall. “We need to do everything possible to fight it by curbing excessive prescriptions, making effective treatment available, and enforcing laws to stop traffickers.”

State Representative Arnold Mooney said that a man in his Church died from a fentanyl overdose. His death devastating his father and brother. “Saving lives from conception to death is very important to me. I want to congratulate Senators McClendon and Dial for the work they have done on this. I am so thankful to Kaleo Pharmaceuticals for providing lifesaving medications like this.”

EVZIO is a small two dose auto-injector of naloxone. Trainers with Kaleo showed state rescue squad leaders and reporters how to administer the treatment.

When first responders respond to an overdose, you simply remove the protective cover, hold the EVZIO device to the thigh of the victim and push the button to inject the naloxone. Every EVZIO is equipped with a speaker that gives instructions on how to use the device.

If the patient does not respond or slips back into unconsciousness administer the second dose three to five minutes later. Every EVZIO unit comes with a trainer device that does not include a needle or medicine and can be reused to practice the injection process.

Kaleo Director of Corporate Affairs Samuel Schwartz said that they have given away 300,000 of these to help fight the rising tide of opioid overdoses. The first responder price is normally $360. The EVZIO received FDA approval.

“It is not a substitute for emergency medical care. It is designed to keep someone alive until help can arrive,” Schwartz said. “We are very passionate about this and am grateful to be able to work with you and the people of the state of Alabama.”

“I understand that our rural communities are often 30 minutes or more away from a hospital,” Dial said. “A majority of the time, volunteer fire and rescue organizations are the first to respond to an opioid overdose. With the hospital 30 minutes away, access to naloxone to reverse opioid overdoses is absolutely essential to saving lives.”

“Drugs legally prescribed that become diverted and entering the drug underworld are frequently tainted so that neither dosage nor potency is known,” McClendon said. “Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid and commonly used to lace diverted drugs. Fentanyl is prescribed in micrograms, while opioids are prescribed in milligrams. When lacing opioids with a drug 100 times more powerful, the anticipated high can lead to overdose and all to frequently death.”

McClendon is the chairman of the Senate Health Committee. McClendon is seeking another term but has no primary opponent.

“One of our most valuable tools is to equip emergency responders with antidote medication that can be a matter of life or death for overdose victims,” Marshall said. “This contribution from Kaleo Pharma to provide naloxone for our rural fire departments will make an important difference for the people of Alabama and is greatly appreciated.”

Marshall was appointed attorney general by former Gov. Robert Bentley and is seeking his own term.

Dial said that Kaleo was providing enough doses to equip every volunteer rescue squad truck in the state with one. The rescue squads will need training in the devices and that will begin Friday in Lee County.

Kaleo executives said that the product has a two-year shelf life but by the time they are shipped they have a year left. Kaleo will provide an EVZIO plus replace that initial device twice. This will be a three year supply and the grant has a value of $12 million.

The Alabama Political Reporter asked if the legislature would consider appropriating the money to replace them after those first three years are up.

Dial said that he is leaving the Senate at the end of the year so he can not predict what the legislature would do three or four years from now. The volunteer rescue squads have no money to buy them. Dial expressed hope that the opioid crisis can be solved by then.

Dial is running for Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries in the June 5 Republican Primary.

“Treatment and recovery is one of the strategies to help the addicted,” McClendon said. “Addicts can return to a normal life, and once again have a family, a job, friends, and self-esteem. Recovery from the abyss of addiction is not easy but it can be done. But the addict must survive the overdose. Preventing these fatalities allows the option of treatment and recovery.”

“Kaleo Pharma has already saved over 5,000 lives across our nation, their gift to Alabama today will save thousands of Alabamian families the loss and heartache associated from opioid overdoses,” Dial said.

“I want to personally thank Kaleo for their willingness to provide these life-saving devices to our state,” McClendon said.

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Alabama Dept. of Corrections has tested 17 inmates for COVID-19

Chip Brownlee

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The Alabama Department of Corrections has tested 17 inmates in nine of the state’s prisons for the novel coronavirus. All tests so far have been negative.

Five more inmates have been tested, but their results are pending.

ADOC began publishing test data on its website Thursday. It says it will update the information twice a week.

“The Alabama Department of Corrections remains committed to maintaining transparency – without compromising security –throughout the duration of the COVID-19 outbreak, and has been working to aggregate relevant data to keep the public informed about the health and well-being of those who live and work in our facilities,” the department says.

The first batch of testing data released from the department comes as a number of advocacy groups, families, former law enforcement officials and activists have called on the state to take extraordinary steps to protect vulnerable inmates in the state’s prisons.

They say that overcrowding in the prisons makes them particularly susceptible to an outbreak of the virus.

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Health

Sen. Doug Jones calls on Alabama governor to order shelter-in-place

Chip Brownlee

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Alabama Sen. Doug Jones during a virtual town hall on Thursday called on Gov. Kay Ivey to implement a statewide shelter-in-place or stay-at-home order.

“I have been promoting stay at home orders for some time,” Jones said, adding that he “absolutely” thinks the state should implement such an order.

“The reason I would like to see one is because it sends a strong message to the people of Alabama of how significant it is to use the social distancing, to use whatever means necessary to stop the spread of this virus,” he said.

Jones said an order from the governor would have more force than social media messages asking people to stay home.

Public health experts have also called for such measures.

“People’s health is about the least political thing there should be,” said Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, the director of the Division of Infectious Diseases and a professor of medicine at The University of Alabama Birmingham, who participated in the town hall. “I don’t care what you call it, but the messaging should be consistent. We should all be playing from the same playbook.”

Ivey has said she is trying to balance the economy and public health by closing beaches and closing some non-essential businesses. But she has not ordered people to stay home. She has said she doesn’t want to put more strain on the economy by adding a more restrictive shelter-in-place order.

“The governor remains committed to exploring all options and has not ruled anything out, but she hopes that we do not need to take this approach,” Ivey’s spokesperson said Wednesday. “The governor’s priority is protecting the health, safety and well-being of all Alabamians, and their well-being also relies on being able to have a job and provide for themselves and their families. Many factors surround a statewide shelter-in-place, and Alabama is not at a place where we are ready to make this call.”

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Jones said what would be best for the economy is to defeat the virus.

“We help this economy by staying home because we can stop the spread, and we can get rolling again pretty soon,” Jones said.

Jones also encouraged the president to continue to invoke the Defense Production Act to direct companies to manufacture more personal protective equipment, testing supplies and ventilators for hospitals fighting the virus. “We need to have more and if it takes an invoking of the Defense Production Act, then so be it.”

In the town hall, Jones warned that Alabama is on the verge of a health care crisis. As of Thursday morning, there are nearly 1,200 lab-confirmed cases of the virus in the state and at least 32 deaths.

“Our healthcare response is getting overwhelmed,” Jones said.

Jones continued to call on Alabamians to heed the advice of medical professionals who are asking people to stay home except for most essential needs.

“Listen to the medical professions. Do it for yourself and do it for your parents and do it for each other,” Jones said.

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Congress

Alabama municipalities may be left out of $2 trillion stimulus package

Bill Britt

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As the largest economic stimulus in American history flows to states and municipalities around the nation, stipulations in the two-trillion dollar emergency fund may leave Alabama cities out altogether.

As enacted, the third stimulus bill, the CARE Act, directs funding for states, and local governments, the catch is that the act only allocates funds for municipalities with a population of 500,000 or more.

No city in Alabama has a population of 500,000, leaving an unanswered question as to who gets what and who gets nothing?

The state has 463 municipalities spread out over 67 counties. Not one has a population nearing half a million yet each one is experiencing the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are working with Treasury and the Governor’s office to understand what municipalities can expect,” said Greg Cochran, deputy director of the Alabama League of Municipalities.

Alabama will receive $1.9 billion from the stimulus package, as a block grant, which could be allocated in a 55-45 split, according to the League’s estimation with around $1.04 billion to the state and $856 million going to local governments.

“Currently, there is little guidance on how those shared resources are to be distributed to local governments,” said Cochran. “Nor is there clear directive that those resources are to be shared with local governments with less than 500,000 populations.”

The National League of Cities is also seeking clarification from Treasury Department on these questions and guidelines to ensure funds are shared with local governments.

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“Congress is working on a fourth stimulus bill, and we are working diligently with our Congressional delegation, NLC and other stakeholders to have all cities and towns are recognized for federal funding assistance,” Cochran said.

However, on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell cast doubt on a fourth package, saying that Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s needed to “stand down” on passing another rescue bill. “She needs to stand down on the notion that we’re going to go along with taking advantage of the crisis to do things that are unrelated to the crisis,” as reported by The Washington Post.

Alabama’s biggest cites, Birmingham, Montgomery, Huntsville, Mobile and Tuscaloosa, are already facing strain under the weight of the COVID-19 outbreak.

But so are smaller cities like Auburn, Hoover, Madison, Opelika and others. Lee County and Chambers County have far more cases of the virus per capita than the state’s more populous counties.

“I was not really happy with the way that they limited the money,” Jones said, adding that the money could go to counties with 500,000 or above. Jefferson County would qualify for that.

Jones also said he would like to see more money for city and county expenses not directly related to COVID-19 like fire and police. “We’re going to have to do what I think we can to backfill some of the expenses,” Jones said.

In addition to health and welfare concerns for residents during the COVID-19 calamity, cites are dealing with what is certain to be a downward spiral on tax revenue and other sources of income and a subsequent rise in costs. The U.S. Department of Labor reported Thursday that at least 90,000 people have applied for unemployment compensation in the state over the last two weeks.

“Knowing that our municipalities will experience a loss in revenue because they rely on sales, motor fuel and lodgings taxes, we are urging our state Legislature to be mindful of actions they take when they return regarding unfunded mandates/preemptions,” said Cochran. “Additionally, we are concerned about the adverse impact this could have on 2021 business licenses, which are based on sales from 2020.”

The combined population of the state’s two biggest cities, Birmingham and Montgomery, do not equal 500,000, the threshold for receiving funds under the Care Act.

Cochran says that the League is working tirelessly to find answers as to how local governments can participate in Congress’s emergency funding.

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Guest Columnists

Opinion | For humanitarian and public health reasons, we need to get people out of our jails

Bishop Van Moody

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For the Lord hears the needy and does not despise his own people who are prisoners (Psalm 69:33)

We are facing a crisis unlike any in our lifetime. A virus is infecting us at unprecedented rates. Over 100,000 have been infected in the United States and the death toll in our country is already in the thousands. 

But we’re not doing everything possible to keep us safe. The county jails in Alabama, which lock up thousands of people, are a major health risk. The incarcerated population can’t practice “social distancing” and instead are left to languish in these facilities with no soap or supplies to sanitize their own cells.

Imprisoned  people are highly vulnerable to outbreaks of contagious illnesses such as COVID-19. People incarcerated in jails are housed in close quarters, and are often in poor health. And, according to a report from the Association of County Commissions of Alabama, the county jail population quadrupled between 2014 and 2018.

The way to mitigate that health risk is clear. We need to release people who are no risk to our communities and vulnerable to exposure immediately. And jail officials need to come up with a plan, and make it public, for how they will deal with a COVID-19 outbreak in their facility. 

Gov. Kay Ivey acknowledged the danger in her State of Emergency declaration, finding that “the condition of jails inherently heightens the possibility of COVID-19 transmission.”  Ivey’s declaration said that people charged with crimes could be served with a summons instead of being arrested. But that doesn’t do much for the people already locked up and awaiting trial. 

And a COVID-19 outbreak in these jails with the current incarcerated population would be disastrous for public health. The incarcerated people who get infected would have to be taken to our already overcrowded hospitals, and people who work in the jails are also in danger of both being infected, and spreading the infection to people on the outside. Lowering the total number of people locked up would make an outbreak less likely, and also make it easier to quarantine people who have been infected.

But there is also a moral and humanitarian reason to get people out of these jails. The crime rate in our state didn’t quadruple in the last few years, but our jail population did. Many of the people now locked up aren’t there because they committed horrible crimes, they’re locked up because they’re too poor to afford bail. Some are even elderly and therefore at “higher risk for severe illness”, according to the CDC.

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It is wrong to lock people up because they can’t afford to pay bail. If a judge has already decided that someone does not pose a threat to the community and they can get out of jail if they can pay a fee, then they shouldn’t be locked up at all during a crisis like this.Poverty is not a crime and under these circumstances, it should not put you at risk of contracting COVID-19.

Last month county jail inmates with bonds under $5,000 were ordered released in Autauga, Elmore and Chilton Counties, as long as the sheriffs and wardens sign off on it. Mobile Countyhas also announced it would release certain pre-trial inmates.. These actions were taken due to fears of the spread of COVID-19.

Other states have also started doing this. Montana, California, New Jersey, Washington and Wyoming are amongthe states that have actively worked to reduce it’s incarcerated population in the last few weeks.

Actions like these need to be the norm going forward. COVID-19 is scary, but we must meet it with Christian love and compassion. We must extend that to our brothers and sisters behind bars who pose no threat to our communities and are awaiting their day in court. We must consider those who are elderly and already ill. This virus is the worst thing many of us have seen in our lifetimes, let’s combat it with love and compassion, instead of hate and fear.

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