Local efforts to stop prescription drug abuse epidemic - Tucson News Now

Local efforts to stop prescription drug abuse epidemic

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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

It is all around us: medicine, both prescription and over-the-counter. They come with a promise to make us feel better.

"My favorite one was probably adderal and benedryl," Kelsie Perfors, a former pill addict said. Perfors, who turned 18 last month, says she knew to mix them from searching on Google.

People who abuse pills are getting them in the most obvious of places, said Dean Wright, the director of Arizona's Prescription Monitoring Program. 

"97 percent say when they're asked 'where did you get your drug?' Right out of the medicine cabinet," Wright said.

In Pima County, overdose deaths have increased 15-percent since 2010. That year, Wright says 490 Arizonans died because of prescription drug abuse. In 2012, 585 million pills were prescribed in Arizona, enough to medicate every adult around-the-clock for two weeks.

"When you have that much availability, the potential for abuse, misuse, diversion is there," Wright said.

The Arizona Prescription Drug Misuse and Abuse Initiative launched last year to increase public awareness about medicine abuse and decrease the number of pills out there.  Arizona has been trying for years.  In 2007, our state become one of the now 37 to pass legislation to begin collecting data through a prescription drug monitoring program, or PDMP.  Arizona began collecting data in 2008.  Eleven other states and Guam have passed legislation to establish something similar.

The PDMP tracks data on schedule II through IV controlled substances, looking at prescriptions given out by practitioners and pharmacies with the hope of discovering abuse or misuse.  Registration is required but doctors and pharmacists are not required to use the database, and right now, Wright says 23-percent of Arizona physicians do.

"We need to increase that," Wright said.

Yavapai is one of three pilot counties included in the new initiative and Wright says data from year-long efforts shows positive change.

"In Yavapai, the prescribers who are actually signed up and using this system, 47 percent now in a year's time. They went from about 11 percent up to 47 because they went out grassroots and talked to them."

In Yavapai County, more drop boxes were installed for people to drop old meds any time, instead of leaving them around the house where, left unlocked, can be easily abused.

Pima County was not included in the pilot program, but the Pima County Community Prevention Coalition is working to get our numbers down.  Permanent Rx Safe drop boxes were recently installed at five Tucson Police Department stations, in addition to infrequent "take back" events. 

Michele Hesse lost her son, Christopher to prescription pills two years ago.  Christopher was 16.

"I think the problem is so bad, I don't even know what could be done," Hesse said. "I feel it's that helpless, I really do."

The state and local initiatives seek to bring hope to families like Michele's, tackling what is called a "silent epidemic."

The state says public outreach is key, and so is communicating with doctors about prescribing habits.  View the attachment to see how the state is trying to inform doctors about whether they prescribe more, less, or about the same number of commonly abused pills as their peers. 

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