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The Midwest Painkiller Epidemic: Dr. Feelgood meet Big Brother

Flickr-Charles-Williams
Flickr-Charles-Williams

According to a report this morning by the Associated Press, sales of the most popular prescription painkillers in the nation have exploded in new parts of the country. It seems that from coast to coast the Drug Enforcement Administration figures show dramatic increases over the last decade in the distribution of Opioid Pain Relievers (OPR) including oxycodone, the key ingredient in OxyContin, Percocet, and Percodan. In some parts of the country these drugs saw sales increases as much as sixteen fold. In the Midwest and in Appalachia, the prime focal point for what is being called the painkiller epidemic, the distribution of hydrocodone, the key ingredient in Vicodin, Norco, and Lortab, is on the rise as well.

The growing concern for the increase in these prescription painkiller sales poses the question; in the attempt to manage a patient’s pain are healthcare providers contributing to an addiction epidemic?

The truth is it is easy to develop an addiction to prescription painkillers. These are powerful drugs that alter the wiring in your brain. Short-term these medications offer relief for those suffering from pain, but if these prescriptions are used for extended periods of time your body just doesn’t want to let them go. Because not only do they relieve pain, they make you feel good. Over time it takes more and more to give you the “feel-goods” that you’ve grown accustom to and the possibility over an accidental overdose becomes more likely. Of course the risk of an accidental overdose is exponentially increased when these medications are mixed with alcohol and other drugs.

Flickr-hang_in_there
Flickr-hang_in_there

Also, just because your physician prescribes these medications to you allowing access to them through your friendly neighborhood pharmacy doesn’t make them any less dangerous than illicit drugs. In fact, according to reports from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, even though methamphetamine related deaths are increasing, the leading cause of drug related deaths are related to prescription drug overdoses. In 2002 prescription drug deaths were the second leading cause of death just behind motor-vehicle accidents. These reports show that between 1999 and 2005, the annual number of unintentional drug overdose deaths in the United States more than doubled – from 11,155 to 22,448. By 2008 the number of deaths from drug overdoses climbed to 36,450. Of these deaths, prescription drugs claimed 20,044 lives, with opioid pain relievers responsible for 73.8% of those fatalities.

In 2005 alone, Indiana reported nearly 600 deaths caused by unintentional overdose. Officials in Kentucky report that they have nearly 600 fatalities per year as a result of unintentional prescription drug overdoses. It seems that a certain level of social acceptance associated with using prescription drugs has gotten the better of our so-called civilization. Even with high profile media coverage on the deaths of Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston, the consensus is that it can’t happen to us. Our society would like to believe, and most do, that only hardcore drug addicts and junkies die from drug overdoses. It is this type of nonchalant ignorance that has desensitized the general population to the real dangers associated with the abuse and misuse of the medications they are taking on a daily basis.

Flickr renaissancechambara
Flickr renaissancechambara

Indiana, did you know your prescription drug use is being watched?

It’s true. In 1997 Indiana Legislation enacted a Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP), which became operational in 1998. The program is called INSPECT and it is an electronic collection and tracking program used to monitor the scheduled prescription medications being dispensed in the state. INSPECT requires all licensed pharmacies in Indiana to report on dispensed scheduled II through V controlled substances. It also requires dispensing practitioners to report the controlled substances that they prescribe to their patients. This data is collected by INSPECT on a weekly basis, and is used as a tool to help address the problem of prescription drug abuse and diversion in Indiana.

According to IN.gov the INSPECT data can be requested by prescribers, pharmacists, law enforcement, licensing boards, the Attorney General’s office, and any other PMP that has an interoperability agreement with Indiana. Currently the only state with that type of an agreement with Indiana is Ohio. The primary focus of INSPECT is to allow doctors around the state borders to have full access to patient records whether the prescription was filled in Indiana or Ohio, no matter who wrote the prescription or where it was filled. This will allow all INSPECT users to identify potential “Doctor-Shoppers” and “Drug Seekers” that are crossing the border to obtain prescriptions in Ohio, and vice versa.

What this means is that if live in Indiana and are being prescribed any scheduled II to V substance your activity is being monitored. For the average person this should cause no alarm. The INSPECT program is in place to slow down and stop the people who spend time trying to find any doctor who will prescribe them the prescription drugs that they want. Being on this list isn’t anything to be concerned about unless you are trying to abuse the system. Unfortunately a lot of people do abuse the system, which has a way of intruding on the privacy of law biding citizens.

If you are unsure if the prescription medication you are taking is a scheduled controlled substance you can find out by looking at this list provided by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA):

http://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/schedules/orangebook/c_cs_alpha.pdf

On a personal note: In 2010 I completed a rehab program for my addiction to prescription medications at Deaconess Crosspoint here in Evansville, Indiana. It wasn’t an easy thing to do at all. In fact, going through their rehab program was absolutely terrible. But now that I’ve been clean for nearly a year and a half I am convinced that it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Life is better, happier, and more productive rather than destructive. I still struggle with aspects of it everyday, but those struggles are miniscule in comparison to the problems I had before going through treatment.

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