In an effort to reduce the abuse of prescription opioid painkillers, the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced it now requires new warning labels on these highly addictive drugs.
Due in part to the wide availability of opioid drugs, their abuse has become all too common in our country. What most people don’t realize is that prescription drugs can be highly addictive and as dangerous as illicit drugs like heroin or methamphetamine. In fact, today drug abuse kills more people in the United States than car crashes.
In a 2012 survey, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) found that 50 percent of high school seniors said that Vicodin and other opioid drugs were very easy to get. The easiest way, they explained, was to steal these drugs from friends’ or relatives’ medicine cabinets.
The NIDA also says that many people believe that abusing prescription drugs is safer than abusing illicit drugs, because prescription drugs are legal when prescribed by doctors. If doctors prescribe these drugs, the thinking goes, they must be safe.
What most people don’t understand is that prescription drugs can be highly addictive, as addictive as illicit drugs. Prescribed opioid painkillers act on the same parts of the brain as heroin, and prescription stimulants have effects similar to cocaine and methamphetamines. Both prescription drugs and illicit drugs can do long-term health damage, and even lead to death.
Here in Mendocino County the risk of addiction to prescription opioids is a serious problem. In the last two years (2014-2015), sixty-four deaths were attributed to opioid abuse. These statistics stand out compared to other counties, according to our County Public Health Department. Mendocino County is ranked ninth highest among California’s 58 counties in deaths related to opioid abuse, and twelfth in non-fatal emergency room visits related to opioids.
The good news is that here in Mendocino County a committed group of people is working with the Public Health Department as part of the ““Safe RX Mendocino Coalition.” This project began a few months ago with the support of a $60,000 grant from Partnership HealthPlan of California.
This coalition is made up of doctors, health care providers and other service providers from our community, and they have two main goals: to support safe prescription practices here in Mendocino County and to expand access to treatment programs for those addicted to prescription drugs.
In the short time since the coalition was formed, it has already developed and on April 1st implemented unified prescription standards for our hospital emergency rooms. The group is now working to create standardized prescription practices for primary care physicians in our communities.
If you’d like more information about the coalition, contact Heather Criss at 707-472-2755.
While the coalition is busy regulating prescription practices and expanding treatment programs, each one of us can help reduce prescription drug abuse by following these simple steps. First, don’t allow easy access to your medications; instead, keep prescription medication in a secure location. Always follow your doctor’s recommendations, and once you are done with a medication, dispose of it in a responsible manner. Please don’t flush medications down the toilet; this pollutes our water sources.
Here in our county, the Mendocino Solid Waste Authority has graciously placed prescription drop boxes at the Ukiah Police Department and other law enforcement agencies, as well as the Ukiah Senior Center. If you’d like more information, please visit: www.safemedicinedisposal.org or mendorecycle.org.
People abuse drugs for lots of reasons and some people are more likely to become addicted to drugs than others. With safer prescription practices and a better understanding of how and why abuse and addiction occur, hopefully we can reduce the inappropriate and dangerous use of opioid drugs. Reducing their availability is an important step in the right direction.
As always, our mission at UPD is simple: to make Ukiah as safe as possible. If you have suggestions on how we can improve please feel free to call me. If you would like to know more about crime in your neighborhood, you can sign up for telephone, cell phone and email notifications by clicking the Nixle button on our website: www.ukiahpolice.com.
By: Chris Dewey - Chief of Police