weather icon Clear

Fact checking Chris Giunchigliani’s claims on opioid crisis

Nevada governor candidate Chris Giunchigliani appeared to dismiss the growing opioid epidemic at a campaign event this year.

While speaking at a Douglas County Democrats dinner on Feb. 17, Giunchigliani told the crowd that “there’s an epidemic and it’s not just opioids. Because with no disrespect, that’s a white person’s drug right now,” according to a video excerpt of the event obtained by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

“You have to deal with heroin, we have to deal with drugs, we have to deal with alcohol. We have to deal with gambling. And that’s all across the state,” Giunchigliani continued in the video.

Then, she added: “Methadone is still highly used in the rural counties. We have an obligation and a responsibility to make sure we’re treating mental health because the addictions are a symptom of that. It’s not the cause. And we have to do better. We have never really restored the funding that was cut back in the ’80s. We have an obligation, and as governor, I want to work on that.”

Are Giunchigliani’s claims accurate?

Yes and no.

Nationally, opioids have predominantly hit white, rural communities disproportionately harder than African-American or Latino communities, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Several studies suggest that was because doctors were less willing to prescribe painkillers to minorities because they viewed them as more susceptible to addiction.

But lately, that trend has shifted significantly.

The rates for overall drug overdoses for African-Americans had been steadily rising from 2010 to 2015, though at a slower rate than for whites.

In 2016, however, the death rates spiked by about 56 percent for African-Americans, jumping from 6.6 per 100,000 to 10.3 per 100,000, compared with a jump from 13.9 to 17.5 for whites.

And there’s no difference in prescription opioid use between blacks and whites, according to the CDC.

Still, whites continue to bear the brunt of the opioid crisis in Nevada. Eighty-three percent of opioid-related deaths were among whites in 2016, state data show. That’s equal to 20.9 per 100,000 Nevadans.

Among blacks, the rate was 12.3 per 100,000, or 8 percent of deaths, according to the data provided by the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Giunchigliani’s campaign manager Eric Hyers tried to clarify the candidate’s remarks from the dinner, saying that she meant the crisis has gotten widespread attention because it is perceived to affect white communities.

“This is in no way to diminish its impact on so many diverse families all over the country, but rather to engage with the way this epidemic is discussed and the policies and laws being enacted,” Hyers said.


As for Giunchigliani’s claim that “methadone is still highly used in the rural counties,” Hyers said the candidate “misspoke.”

“She was referring to meth(amphetamine),” he said.

But methadone overdoses remain a problem in rural Nevada, according to state data.

In counties including Humboldt, Nye, Douglas and Washoe, the methadone death rates fall above the Nevada average. Carson City has the highest methadone-related death rate in the state.

Prescription rates follow the trend.

Still, methadone death rates have nearly halved since 2011, and prescriptions for the drug, which can be used to treat chronic pain, come in well below those for more popular medications like hydrocodone and oxycodone.

Methadone is more commonly used for the treatment of substance abuse, as many doctors aren’t well-versed on the prescribing of it for pain management, said Stephanie Woodard, senior adviser on behavioral health for the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services.

“An individual that’s appropriately dosed on methadone is not getting high,” Woodard said.

“We’re actually very fortunate that we have medications that are available.”

Medication-assisted treatments, whether through methadone or an alternative, can dispel withdrawal symptoms and forgo cravings.

In these settings, methadone is highly regulated on both the state and federal levels — so much so, that only seven providers are certified in Nevada.

None of them are in rural areas.

Contact Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4638. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter. Contact Jessie Bekker at jbekker@reviewjournal.com 702-380-4563. Follow @jessiebekks on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
Trump Pushing for Reopening Schools and In-Person Learning - Video
Donald Trump launched an effort on Wednesday to reopen schools across the United States with in-person learning.
Special session to tackle $1.2B budget deficit in special session Wednesday - VIDEO
Closing the state’s $1.2 billion budget hole will be the prime focus of the upcoming special legislative session that will convene at 9 a.m. Wednesday in Carson City, according to a proclamation issued by Gov. Steve Sisolak. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Lawmakers to tackle $1.2B budget deficit in special session Wednesday - VIDEO
Closing the state’s $1.2 billion budget hole will be the prime focus of the upcoming special legislative session that will convene at 9 a.m. Wednesday in Carson City, according to a proclamation issued by Gov. Steve Sisolak. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Clark County Democratic leaders resign
Several key Clark County Democratic Party leaders have resigned as progressive leadership has swelled in recent months.
Dream Big Nevada celebrates DACA ruling - VIDEO
The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday rejected President Donald Trump’s effort to end legal protections under DACA for 650,000 young immigrants. Astrid Silva, founder of Dream Big Nevada, discusses the temporary victory and the next step for Dreamers.
Councilwoman Michele Fiore walks out of city council meeting - Video
Las Vegas Councilwoman Michele Fiore walks out of a City Council meeting during public comments.
Mitt Romney marches in Washington, D.C., protest - Video
On Sunday, Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah joined a group of protesters marching through Washington, D.C. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nevada gyms, bars that do not serve food can reopen Friday - VIDEO
Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak on Tuesday evening said Phase 2 of the state’s Nevada United: Roadmap to Recovery will begin on Friday. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nevada Rep. Horsford admits to having affair - VIDEO
Nevada Congressman Steven Horsford admitted to having an affair with Gabriela Linder, a former intern for Sen. Harry Reid. Linder detailed her account of the affair in a podcast she called, "Mistress for Congress." (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sisolak says businesses will begin reopening under phase 1 - VIDEO
The first phase of reopening Nevada’s businesses will begin Saturday, May 9, Gov. Steve Sisolak said Thursday. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Joe Biden denies Tara Reade's sexual assault allegation - VIDEO
The former senate aide claims Biden assaulted her in 1993 when he was a senator. Biden first denied the accusations via a public post on Medium. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
RJ interview with Sisolak on the reopening plan for Nevada - VIDEO
The Las Vegas Review-Journal interviewed Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak on the plan for reopening Nevada during the coronavirus pandemic. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sisolak reacts to Goodman CNN interview- VIDEO
Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman repeated her call to immediately reopen businesses during an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Wednesday, leading to a reaction from Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sisolak praises Nevadans for staying at home, saving lives - VIDEO
Gov. Steve Sisolak said Thursday it’s still too early to know when the state’s COVID-19 shutdown orders could be lifted or when businesses could start to reopen their doors. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trump gives governors 3-phase approach to open US - VIDEO
President Donald Trump declared victory in America’s war against the “invisible enemy” as the president’s Coronavirus Task Force released “Opening up America Again” guidelines. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trump names Jacky Rosen to task force on reopening economy - VIDEO
President Donald Trump named Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., to be a member of his Opening Up America Again Congressional Group Thursday to advise him on coronavirus policy. (James Schaeffer / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders endorses Joe Biden for president - VIDEO
On April 13, former presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders announced his official endorsement of former Vice President Joe Biden. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)