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KHN journalists on the closure of dozens of pain clinics in Central California amid a state investigation

Lags.jpeg
Anna Maria Barry-Jester
/
KHN
Lags Medical Centers abruptly closed dozens of clinics, including this Hanford site, in May 2021.

Last May, thousands of Central Valley residents receiving treatment for chronic pain were left without care when Lags Medical Centers, one of the state’s largest networks of pain clinics, shut their doors with little warning amid a state investigation. In the months that followed, Kaiser Health News found that the clinics had been engaging in unorthodox and ethically questionable practices. To learn more, Valley Edition host Kathleen Schock spoke with the two reporters behind that investigation, senior correspondents Jenny Gold and Anna Marie Barry-Jester.

Kathleen Schock is the host of Valley Edition. In the show, Kathleen and the Valley Public Radio news team explore issues that matter to the residents of Central California through engaging conversations and in-depth reporting.
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  • From a national perspective, California may appear to have missed the worst of the opioid crisis. Californians are dying of overdoses at a slower rate than the national average, and at just a tenth the rate of drug-ravaged West Virginia.But don’t be fooled: Opioids are still killing Californians by the thousands each year, and Kern County in particular is faring worse than the state as a whole. From 2016 to 2017, the county reported a rise in overdose deaths of nearly 40percent.Fatal overdoses are not the only indicator of the opioid problem. According to data from the state Department of Public Health and the non-profit Urban Institute, per population, the whole southern San Joaquin Valley reports higher-than-average rates of opioid prescribing and abuse. Two of the three zip codes with the highest prescription rates in the state are located in the Valley. Overdoses are sending Kern County residents to hospitals and emergency departments at a faster rate than almost anywhere else in the San Joaquin Valley.This rural, majority-Medi-Cal-eligible region of the state also suffers a disproportionate lack of access to critical treatment. Fresno contains the only needle exchange program in the Central Valley between Sacramento and Los Angeles, leaving Bakersfield as California’s biggest city not served by a needle exchange somewhere within its surrounding county. Simultaneously, the San Joaquin Valley contains far fewer prescribers than the state average who are waivered to provide medically assisted treatment to opioid users.Who is using opioids in this area? Why? And how can they be better served? These are the questions we will address with this series throughout 2019.This project was supported by a 2018 California Data Fellowship from the University of Southern California’s Center For Health Journalism.