There is an increasingly pervasive threat lurking in medicine cabinets throughout the community. Abuse of commonly found prescription drugs is leading people to hospitals, rehab, criminal court and even to the grave. Fortunately, preventative information and recovery treatment are available – and those topics will be discussed at an upcoming, local prescription medication abuse symposium.
Superior Court Judge Dean Stout said he urged the community to “get out front on the rapidly growing problem of prescription drug abuse … It is particularly disconcerting to see the illegal use of prescription drugs by our youth” more of whom are “turning to their parent’s medicine cabinets to obtain drugs.” And, said Stout, prescription drugs are the target of an increasing number of burglaries, instead of electronics, as in the past.
He encouraged “the public to join the local healthcare provider community” at a free symposium, “What Everyone Ought to Know About Prescription Drugs and Pain Medication” on Sunday, Aug. 5 from 7-8:30 p.m. at the United Methodist Church, 205 N. Fowler St., in Bishop. The symposium, hosted by ATF and United Methodist Church’s Spirit of Recovery program.
Symposium presenter, Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz, MD, PhD, state medical director of the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Program and University of California, San Francisco professor, plans to focus on two points: “these drugs are not benign just because they are prescribed” and “if an addiction occurs, you can get help.”
Addiction takes a devastating personal toll with wide ranging consequences, said McCance-Katz. A person can lose everything, she said, listing family, financial standing, jobs and physical and mental health. Popular culprits in prescription drug addiction are opiods, such as Oxycontin, Vicodin and Methodone, and a class of tranquilizer called benzodiazipines, which includes Valium, Ativan “and, the big one, Xanax,” the addiction psychiatrist said.
Stout said, “Our local medical community and pharmacists should be commended for their willingness to take a leadership role in addressing the complicated issues involved in treating pain, as well as the identification and treatment of opioid addiction.”
Karen Kong of Inyo County Health and Human Services Prevention Programs said she is seeing an increase in people seeking treatment from prescription drug addiction. “I hope that hearing from such an esteemed educator and clinician will lead local medical professionals … to take a hard look at how” they are prescribing “drugs that people can end up dependent on or use recreationally,” said Kong, who is also an Inyo County Addictions Task Force member.
Kong advocates total community involvement, saying “parents today are looking for the classic signs of illegal drug abuse (of) drugs from decades past. Only through education and parental involvement” can they become aware of the drugs teens abuse now so “this trend can be reversed.” She said this symposium is a good start.
Dr. Taema Weiss, M.D., medical director of Toiyabe Indian Health Project and ATF member, said “There is no clear psychological profile for the addict. Any person can innocently (and) quickly become addicted without the initial intention of getting high.” Stout agreed, saying it is increasingly “common to have addicts in our criminal justice system whose addiction originated after suffering major injuries requiring pain management.” However, said Weiss, “It is also important to know that you can get over the addiction and go on to lead a normal life.”
Statistically, addiction can happen to anyone, said McCance-Katz, but it’s most common “in the 18-25 age group … It’s important to be aware of the warning signs (especially for) people who are vulnerable to addiction. They get all of the usual effects of the medication plus euphoria and other pleasant feelings.” She advised them to “tell their doctor not to prescribe these kinds of drugs” for them.
McCance-Katz said prescription drug abuse arises when medications are not used as prescribed. This abuse includes, but is not limited to: using opiates as a sleep aide or to deal with difficult emotions; sharing medications; taking more than prescribed; hoarding drugs; sniffing or injecting oral medications; reporting false or exaggerating symptoms to get more drugs; and getting prescriptions from mone than one prescriber.
McCance-Katz plans to present evidence of the “alarming rate of prescription drug use.” Doris Santiago, ATF member and treatment provider for Inyo County Drug Court Program under Alpine Center for Counseling and Recovery, offered evidence, too. She said “kids are winding up in the ER, in counseling. … That’s what stimulated this (symposium) and it’s long overdue. We want to educate the whole community, not just parents, because it takes the whole community
to help with family addiction problems.” Santiago said, “We need to prescription-proof the kids… They even get (these drugs) online.” And once addicted, if they can’t get their drug-of-choice, “we have severe cases where children are trying anything. And it’s not a moral issue, it can happen to anyone, and to anyone’s kid.”
But there is treatment, said McCance-Katz, “Knowledge is power.” Diagnosing addiction can be very difficult because variables, such as mental health issues, can be involved, she explained. Once diagnosed by a properly and specifically trained healthcare practitioner, multi-faceted treatment is required, she said. Once the drug is out of their systems, addicts are still left with their problems. That’s where relapse prevention and other therapies come into play – and “we teach about and encourage use of 12-step facilitation.”
McCance-Katz will touch upon prevention as well. She warns about liberal and long-term prescribing by healthcare providers. She said there are many other pain treatment options besides opiates.
Pharmacist Jeff Brown, Pharm.D., of Dwayne’s Friendly Pharmacy said, people need to keep their controlled substances under control by monitoring them, “even keep them locked up … Count medication so they know how many are there and how many should be there,” he said. People who steal medications are “experienced and wise about doing it.” Brown listed children, relatives, friends, visitors, repairmen and workers as possible offenders. “You never know.” Brown said that locally and state-wide, practitioners are implementing strategies designed “to uncover prescription drug abuse.”
“We hope that you will join us for this informative and important community event,” said Stout. As Weiss put it, “This is a problem in our community and we all play a part in the solution.”
For more information, contact County of Inyo Superior Court Executive Officer Tammy Grimm at (760) 872-6728.