Utah Attorney General discusses a plan to curb prescription drug abuse, a seriousproblem plaguing our nation both physically and financially. There is trulypower in numbers and I think if NYS were to jump on board with Utah's plan, greatstrides in solving this issue can be made!
PrescriptionDrug Abuse: Unique Challenge for Law Enforcement
Prescriptiondrug abuse is unlike any other type of drug addiction. People whowouldn’t dream of smoking marijuana or snorting cocaine can findthemselves addicted to painkillers that have been prescribed by their doctor.
In Utah, prescription drugabuse is our number one drug problem, and the number one cause of accidental death, ahead of car crashes.
I got a taste of how difficult it can be to get off pain medication in 2007, after amotorcycle accident crushed my left leg. I took several types of painkillers asI went through multiple surgeries. When the external frame finally came off myleg, I realized I still needed painkillers. One Friday night, with my leg hurting badly, I came home planning on taking a pain pill. That’s when mywife told me I was done with painkillers—she had gotten rid of them. Iwas only taking 10 mg of OxyContin, but I still felt I needed it to get by. NowI understand how people can feel worse than they ever have in their life and know that if they take one pill they will feel better than they ever have.
We ares eeing several particularly disturbing aspects of prescription drug abuse. Oneis teenagers’ casual attitude about these medications. They seeprescriptions in their parents’ medicine cabinet and think, ‘How dangerous can it be if a doctor says it’s safe to take?’ Another isthe number of people who are becoming addicted to prescription painkillers andthen switching to heroin, which is less expensive.
This epidemic presents unique challenges for law enforcement. Instead of targetingdrug dealers, law enforcement officials often are confronted with patients inpain and doctors who want to help them. We need to educate both doctors andpatients about the addictive nature of prescription drugs, while at the same time preventing people from “doctor shopping” to collectprescriptions for opioids.
We are addressing the problem on several fronts. In Utah, we formed a Strike Forceseveral years ago that is working to reduce the availability of prescriptiondrugs for abuse, and educate the public about the risks associated withprescription painkillers and why they should not be using these drugs fornon-medical reasons.
Utah also recently passed a law that requires doctors to take continuing medicaleducation courses on controlled substance prescribing for each licensingperiod.
One key feature of our campaign to combat prescription drug abuse is our website, www.useonlyasdirected.org. This site explains theproblems of prescription drug abuse, and how to safely use, store and disposeof prescription drugs.
Utah’s controlled substance monitoring database is now receiving prescriptioninformation in real time, to make doctor shopping more difficult for peopleseeking multiple prescriptions. Ultimately I would like to see the creation ofa nationwide electronic prescription database that would do away with paperprescriptions altogether. Such a system would go a long way toward cutting downon prescription drug fraud.
Because our state has already been focused on prescription drug abuse for the pastthree years, we are ahead of many other states in tackling the problem. Butwith many drug monitoring databases already or soon to be set up in manystates, and National Prescription Drug Take-Back Days collecting hundreds ofthousands of pounds of unwanted or expired medications for safe and properdisposal, we are beginning to make progress nationwide.
This fight is costly, and in this difficult economic climate we are competing withmany important needs. One way in which I hope Utah can pay for the fight againstprescription drug abuse is by setting aside a percentage of settlements madewith pharmaceutical companies that we sued for fraud for inflating the cost ofprescription drugs sold to the state Medicaid program. I am hoping ourLegislature will agree to this plan.
I am optimistic that through a combination of law enforcement and education ofhealth care professionals and the public, we can greatly reduce the terribletoll that prescription drug abuse is taking on our state and our nation.
Mark Shurtleff, Utah Attorney General