Printed on: November 27, 2012

Officials work to educate eastern Idaho residents on dangers of prescription drug abuse

By Ruth Brown
rbrown@postregister.com

Prescription drug abuse is an epidemic, both locally and nationally.

The numbers don't lie.

In 2010, about 12 million Americans ages 12 and older reported nonmedical use of prescription painkillers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2010, the number of opiate prescription drugs handed out to patients in the U.S. was four times that of what it was in 1999, said James Williams, director of the Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center pharmacy.

In 2010, there were enough prescription painkillers prescribed to medicate every American adult around the clock for a month, according to the CDC.

And in 2011, for the first time ever, prescription pill overdose deaths became the leading cause of accidental death in the United States, said Elisha Figueroa, director of the Idaho Office of Drug Policy.

"I don't know if people realize how big of a problem prescription drug abuse has become," said Brenda Price, community resource development specialist for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. "There's a perception that they're safer because they're FDA-approved drugs."

Williams believes the problem stems from the fact that there is less of a stigma about opiate prescription drugs for several reasons.

"It hasn't been mixed with other drugs or had questionable potency or been cut several times," Williams said. "It's not made in someone's garage with different chemicals. But that does not mean it's safe unless it has been prescribed to you for a medical reason."

But a community-based organization is working to find ways to reduce the ever-growing number of people who fall under the addictive grasp of prescription pills.

A regional advisory committee, organized by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, hopes to initiate a prescription drug task force to both educate people on the topic and reduce the number of prescriptions being abused.

Misconceptions about prescription drugs have prompted the committee members to help the public understand the consequences of prescription drug abuse.

Taking the wrong cocktail of prescription drugs or mixing them with alcohol -- as teens and young adults often do -- can be fatal.

Prescription painkiller overdoses killed nearly 15,000 people in the U.S. in 2008, according to the CDC. That's more than three times as many as in 1999. Prescription overdose deaths now exceed the number of heroin and cocaine overdose deaths combined.

Price said that if people knew more about what these drugs can do and how many people abuse them, they would be more responsible with their use.

She also wants the task force to encourage parents to educate their children on prescription drugs. If a teenager is prescribed a drug for a medical reason, parents should administer it and not allow their child to take it without supervision, she said.

Williams said the majority of abused prescriptions come from family members who had leftover pills and either gave them to someone who asked for them or had the drugs taken without their knowledge.

To prevent prescription drugs falling into the wrong hands, local law enforcement officials recommend dropping off leftover prescriptions at take-back program boxes. A locked bin where unwanted pills can be dropped off is located in the lobby of the Idaho Falls law enforcement building at 605 N. Capital Ave.

Williams wants to see more bins placed throughout the community.

EIRMC officials also are working to reduce the abuse of prescription drugs at the hospital. A team of hospital employees is working with local law enforcement to examine "medication security and medication safety within our facility," Williams said.

The team meets monthly to address what can be done to reduce the opportunity for prescription narcotic abuse within the facility, Williams said.

Anyone wanting to be involved with the prescription drug task force or has questions about it can contact Price at priceb@dhw.idaho.gov.

Ruth Brown can be reached at 542-6750. Follow on Twitter: @ruthbrown1. Comment on this story on Post Talk at www.postregister.com/posttalk/.Drug drop-offs

Where to drop off unwanted prescription drugs:

Bonneville County: Law enforcement building, 605 N. Capital Ave., Idaho Falls

Bingham County: Blackfoot Police Department, 501 N. Maple St., Blackfoot

Jefferson County: Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, 200 Courthouse Way, Rigby

Madison County: Rexburg Police Department, 25 E. Main St., Rexburg