Study: Deaths due to drugs exceed number
who die in vehicle accidents
By Joe VanDeLaarschot
of The Lakeland Times
April 18, 2011: For the first time health care entities and law enforcement agencies across the Northwoods meet to address the growing problem of prescription drug misuse and diversion.
According to the 2009 Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than seven million Americans abuse prescription drugs. Each day approximately 2,500 teens use prescription drugs to get high for the first time, according to the Partnership for a Drug Free America.
Taking part in the first-ever meeting of the Lakeland Area Community Drug Abuse Task Force were representatives of Aspirus Clinic, Marshfield Clinic, Ministry Health Care, Ministry Medical Group, the Peter Christensen Health Center, Premier Physical Medicine Security Health, law enforcement from Oneida and Vilas counties and Minocqua, Woodruff and Lac du Flambeau and the Wisconsin Department of Justice.
Statistics show increases
Statistics gathered by the Wisconsin Department of Justice show the greatest rise in the drug problem has been the misuse and diversion of drugs Oxycodone, Hydrocodone and other opiates.
“We each, independently, have seen this problem becoming more prevalent in the past years,” Bob Kovar said. He is the prevention specialist, Center for Community Outreach at the Marshfield Clinic.
“From that point we can coordinate our efforts, communicate better and hope to stem the problem of prescription drugs being abused, misused or diverted to those who should not be using them.”
“One key is improving communication and developing ways to increase awareness between health care entities and law enforcement agencies of drug abuse and diversion,” Dorothy Chaney, program director, Center for Community Outreach at the Marshfield Clinic, said. “We must work to establish these links and network with all entities who are working on these issues.”
Disposal of old prescriptions
Since the initiation of the area group, they have sponsored and promoted several different events and activities which have included the National Pharmaceutical Drug Take Back Day.
On a specific day many of the organizations set up drop-off locations for area residents for the disposal of old and unused medications.
“Studies show that a majority of abused prescription drugs are obtained from family and friends, including the home medicine cabinet,” Andy Gee, Minocqua police chief, said.
“Going forward we want the community to know that we are aware of this problem and are working to be part of the solution,” Michael Larson, Ph.D., said. He is a clinical psychologist with the Marshfield Clinic’s Minocqua Center for Pain Management.
More deaths from drugs than from auto accidents
To underscore the problems of drug abuse, those working to alleviate the problem cite data released in 2011 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The data shows that as of 2009, deaths due to drugs exceeded the number of deaths due to automobile accidents.
It was noted in the report that the increase was fueled by the jump in prescription drug overdoses. The data also showed that since the government started tracking drug-related deaths in 1979, 2009 was the first time that drug deaths outpaced deaths due to auto accidents.
One law enforcement official who heads a prescription drug-related crimes task force said in the report “people feel they are safer with prescription drugs because you get them from a pharmacy and they are prescribed by a doctor. Younger people believe they are safer because they see their parents taking them. It doesn’t have the same stigma as using street narcotics.”
All of these reports, the statistics and additional data illustrate the seriousness of the problem and the large effort that is needed in the Northwoods to tackle it.
The Lakeland Area Community Drug Abuse Task Force hopes to help find the answers and work with other Northwoods entities to try to reverse the rising problem of drug abuse.
The task force is scheduled to hold its next meeting Monday, Nov. 19, starting at 9 a.m. in lower level conference rooms 2 and 3 at the Marshfield Clinic Minocqua Center.
Work, action plans
The group is expected to discuss progress on several work and action plans that were assigned at an earlier meeting, including:
• Methadone issue. Work to have opioid treatment better understood and more responsive to the local treatment community.
• Pharmacy initiative. Work to increase collaboration between regional pharmacies to identify best practices regarding safe dispensing of controlled substances.
• Case management. Work to build support to examine potential and capacity for involving treatment partners in case management model for patients.
• Pharmacological alternatives. Assess and promote local and regional alternatives to pharmacological pain management.
• Justice system diversion and alternatives. Need to identify and develop alternatives to criminalizing addiction to stop the cycle.
• Law enforcement awareness training. Improve and enhance communication between law enforcement, pharmacies and area providers.
• Dental clinics. Dentists and orthodontists are key stakeholders as providers of pain medications in our community and they need to be at the table.
• Health care providers. Develop interagency policies and guidelines that ensure patients regionally are facing similar policies from one health care organization to the next.
• Good Samaritan law. Investigate the readiness for local and regional Good Samaritan laws to protect people who bring overdosing friends for medical care.
• Safe disposal. Work with county, tribal, DNR and coalition officials to secure funding for permit for local incinerator and with local coalitions to build safe disposal awareness campaign.
Joe VanDeLaarschot may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.