News From Terre Haute, Indiana

August 28, 2013

State task force, website fight prescription drug abuse

Howard Greninger
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Prescription drug abuse is an emerging epidemic in Indiana, and a state task force and new website can help Hoosiers learn the signs and symptoms, state leaders said in a stop in Terre Haute on Tuesday.

“Prescription drug abuse is a serious problem,” said Dr. Joan Duwve, chief medical officer of the Indiana State Department of Health and co-chair of the Indiana Prescription Drug Abuse Task Force. “One in five Hoosier high school students [has] used controlled substances without a prescription. Teens have easy access to these drugs, which are commonly prescribed and end up in the home medicine cabinet.”

In 2011, 718 deaths were caused from accidental drug overdoes, up from 654 the year before, Duwve said, quoting State Department of Health data.

Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said www.bitterpill.in.gov provides a one-stop site to receive updates and information on efforts to fight prescription drug abuse.

Zoeller said funding for the program comes from fines levied against pharmaceutical companies the state sues for advertising something a drug may do not approved by the Federal Drug Administration. The state has about $3 million it has collected in that manner over the past five years, Zoeller said.

“When the U.S. Centers for Disease Control say that it is an epidemic, it is not just an adjective, but is a statistical warning of the consequences,” Zoeller said. “Indiana had the record number of pharmacy robberies, at 97 robberies. … We led the nation, and they are robbing them for the opiates that they are addicted to,” Zoeller said, particularly mentioning oxycodone.

“We started to pay attention when we saw there were more deaths attributed to prescription drugs than to motor vehicle accidents,” Duwve said. “In fact in Indiana, from 1990 to 2009, we saw about a 500-percent increase in fatalities related to prescription drug abuse, which is directly parallel to the increase in sales of these strong narcotics through public pharmacies in the state and nationally.”

Duwve said Indiana’s population increased 16 percent in that 10-year span; however, over the same time, the sale of oxycodone in retail pharmacies increased by 1,259 percent, she said.

She said the drug abuse task force is focusing on educating physicians to “be responsible prescribers, and we are working with different medical associations and the state licensing board to draft rules for responsible prescribing for chronic pain patients.”

The task force also is looking at how to keep the drugs stored and out of the hands of teenagers. It also is working on a solution for unused drugs stored in medicine cabinets. “You don’t want to dump them down the toilet, to protect the water. So, we are trying to work with pharmacies to get a take-back program to drop them in a safe box,” Duwve said.

Indiana is leading the nation, she said, with a program in which prescribers can monitor prescriptions through a computer program maintained by the Indiana Pharmacy Board.

Since January 2012, Zoeller’s office has taken action against more than 15 doctors for prescribing addictive painkillers outside what is considered medically appropriate.

“This idea that because medications have been prescribed, its safe, we have got to get that out of people’s minds. These can be very dangerous, particularly in combination with alcohol. You should not be taking anything without a doctor prescribing it to you and being under a doctor’s care,” Zoeller said.