Dr. David Byun, chairman of the Special Board of Public Health, gave the White Pine County Commission an update on health related issues, topics and concerns that are happening around White Pine County. HIV cases have doubled and the opioid crisis continues. 

The first agenda item was regarding HIV cases. The state informed Byun there has been a spike of HIV cases in White Pine.  

“I asked the state to give me some data I could share with the board, because we are so small, and it is a very private sensitive subject,” he said.  “They are seeing double the cases in recent years. in 2016 the number of people that were diagnosed with HIV was 15.  

“It is an assessment, it is a important subject matter, and we do know that our current providers I the community, many of them are very uncomfortable managing this diagnosis on a primary care basis, and there are only a few us in the community willing to manage the cases.”

County Commissioner Travis Godon asked if the state separates the prison out from the cases reported.

Byun said, “Good question,” noting that he asked the same question, and he was given the answer no.

Byun explained the importance of having the numbers separate, seeing as how the Ely State Prison doesn’t go through William Bee Ririe Hospital for treatment. District Attorney Mike Wheable said, “It is entirely possible that 99 percent of those cases are in our prison population.” 

County Commissioner Ian Bullis said, “Do you have the ability to go over their head, the CDC or something, put em in a head lock to maybe give us an answer? It’s my nature, I would want to talk to everyone that I could, it’s weird that they wouldn’t give you numbers, that’s not a disclosure of privacy.” 

Byun said, “They will give me the numbers, but it wouldn’t be advised to be discussed in a open public meeting,  but they’re not opposed to giving numbers, we just didn’t get them in time.” 

Opioid and other controlled substances was another agenda item.  Byun spoke of numbers that are lagging with the reporting being  behind two years. Retail prescriptions per 100 persons in Nevada were 87.4, White Pine 99.9, and Byun also compared Eureka at 92.7, Elko, 71.6, explaining White Pine was on the higher end of the number reporting.   

Wheable asked for the numbers to be repeated. Byun began to repeat the numbers and Elizabeth Frances, county finance director asked, “Did you say that there are 99.9 persons per 100 that have prescriptions?”

Byun, explained that the numbers were retail prescriptions dispensed per person. Sighs and some gasps came from commission members, some in shock and some appeared to be in disbelief.  

Wheable said, “It sounds like your saying 9 out of 10 people are being prescribed opioids.”  

Byun said, “Yes, the raw number is the number of prescriptions.”  

County Commissioner Laurie Carson asked “per 100 people?” 

Commissioner Shane Bybee said, “That’s over how long of a period?”

Byun explained it was in 2016.  

“In a one-year period, there is one prescription per person in this county?” Bybee asked.

Byun replied, “Yes.”

Wheable said, “So there is enough prescriptions for every man, woman and child in this community.”

Wheable noted that coincides with the criminal justice side. Bybee said, “And that doesn’t count that there is technology where they are being produced outside the pharmaceutical industry, there are a lot more of those, these are retail legally and dispensed legally.”  

Wheable noted that the medical field is doing more now to monitor the prescriptions being prescribed, and also talked about how this was before AB47.  There was also discussion about the rise on heroin. 

Byun also discussed other prescribed medication such as anti-anxiety meds. Number statewide, 38.8, White Pine, 33.4, Lincoln County 26.2, Eureka, 29.3, Elko, 26.1. 

Percentage of high school students taking prescription drugs without a prescription in Nevada, 2015.  

“Byun, this one statewide, 16.9 percent, they bundled, Elko, White Pine and Eureka together, and it’s at 15.1 percent, which is about 1 out of 6 students.” 

Drug overdose deaths, and this data does not specify what drug it is, based on 2018 public health county ratings. White Pine had 30 plus mortality rate, Lincoln County is also 30 plus, and Eureka was 20 plus.  

Byun said, “After the passing of AB474,  there are findings of different alternative, to decrease the amount of prescriptions.” 

White Pine County Sheriff Scott Henriod stood before the commission about the rise in heroin.  

“With the type of restrictions that were put on opioids, it constricted the flow of distribution between patients and doctors, and for street value, it drove the price up, with that people who are suffering from addiction, where people would buy oxycodone for $5, now is $25,” he said.

Meth is still reportedly the number one drug in White Pine.

“Over the last two years, we have seen an increase in heroin,” Henroid said. “If you would have told me thirty or thirty five years ago when I first started my career that heroin was gonna be as prevalent as it is in White Pine I would have called you a liar. That will be our next addiction crisis in the State of Nevada.”  

Byun gave his assessment on the opioid issue. “There is a ongoing opioid crisis. Prescription rate being replaced by street drugs. A few weeks ago I sent a letter to community leaders to see if we could put our heads to together, law enforcement, judiciary, retail pharmacy, overall community leaders to share something about their disciplines, and figure out what we can do to make our county better.  

“It is a disease, it is a problem, and we need to do something about it. This has to be multidimensional, and that is something that I am hoping to accomplish in this years time.”

Byun asked if the commission had any questions, and the rest of the room was silent, with the exception of Commissioner Laurie Carson, “it’s a lot to absorb.”