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What I learned at last night's anti-drug forum
November 22, 2013 - Betsy Bethel
The Ohio County Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition, the local anti-drug coalition, held an amazing public forum last night at West Virginia Northern Community College on the problem of prescription drug abuse in our community. I am co-chair of the coalition but attended as a member of the public. The forum panel included no fewer than 20 local leaders and stakeholders:
— Erikka Storch, W.Va. delegate, R-Ohio
— Melody Osborne, Adolescent Health Initiative
— Sgt. Don Miller, Wheeling Police (and Prevention Resource Officer)
— Brenda Danehart, WTRF-Channel 7
— Wheeling Mayor Andy McKenzie
— Dr. William Mercer, health officer, Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department
— Dr. Martin Olshinsky, WVNCC presidnet
— U.S. Attorney William Ihlenfeld
— W.Va. Senate President Jeff Kessler
— Parent Jenny Imer
— Bethany College student Matt Grimard
— Ohio County Commissioner Orphy Klempa
— Wheeling City Councilman Don Atkinson
— Howard Gamble, administrator, Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department
— Mary Lu Hutchins, director of student services, Ohio County Schools
— The Rev. Jeremiah Jasper, pastor, Fourth Street Methodist Church
— Russ Taylor, Healthways-Miracles Happen director (treatment facility)
— Ohio County Sheriff Pat Butler
— Russ Shaw, National Council on Aging
— Lance Gossett, pharmacist, Wheeling Hospital
The forum was moderated by Claudia Raymer, a coalition member and also executive director of the Ohio County Family Resource Network.
Lori Garrett-Bumba, coalition project director, welcomed the near capacity audience at the WVNCC B&O building auditorium and mentioned that the coalition's work has included setting up two prescription drug take-back events a year since 2010 and the installation of the first permanent drop box for prescription drugs in the state at the Wheeling Police Department. The forum opened with a presentation by Amy Haskins of Jackson County and Greg Puckett of Mercer County, anti-drug coalition experts who have had success in their counties, who talked about the problem of prescription drugs in West Virginia and what coalitions and communities can do to help curb their abuse.
From the speakers, the panelists and the audience members, this is what I learned (I knew a few of these things beforehand but think they are important to mention):
— West Virginians have an average of 18 prescriptions each. That's for every man, woman and child in the state. The national average is 11 or 12.
— Where are people who abuse prescription drugs getting them? They steal them from their parents' or grandparent's medicine cabinets, kitchen cupboards, bedroom drawers or purses.
— They get them from friends.
— They buy them from dealers — and the dealer might be a neighbor or co-worker who was legally prescribed the pills and realizes he or she can make money off them.
— They take their kids' medications, e.g. attention-deficit/hyperactivity meds like Adderall or Ritalin.
— They get them legitimately from their dentist or physician. When they can't get anymore from one doctor, they go to another, or to the ER, and so on. — They steal them out of the homes of friends or employers (i.e., contractors are taking them from homes where they work and teens are taking them from the homes of their friends).
— I learned that some seniors are prescribed so many medications that they don't need and don't take because they are on an automatic refill program and haven't taken the necessary steps to cancel the refills.
— If you are prescribed painkillers after seeing the dentist or physician, you don't have to get it filled for the full number of pills. Despite what one person at the forum said about knowing someone who was told by the pharmacist that he had to dispense it as written, Mr. Gossett said you can request only two pills out of 10, for example. And if you need more and the script hasn't expired, you can go back and get up to the full amount.
— Dr. Olshinksy noted that an employer recently drew 350 candidates for open positions in West Virginia. Of the 350, only 50 passed the drug test.
— Dr. Mercer shared that at a public health conference he attended this week, he learned that while doctors are starting to check patients' pill bottles during visits to count the pills and make sure they aren't taking more than prescribed, patients are now "renting" pills for their doctor visits so their habit (or their dealing) goes undetected.
— Local medical students who attended spoke up that, from their experience here (they are all from out of state), it's the parents who have the drug problems, not the kids.
— Sgt. Miller noted that juvenile crime often is related to drugs, and that crime is down something like 300 percent this year over last. He attributes at least some of that drop to the work the Prevention Resource Officers. Mr. Puckett said the importance of the PROs cannot be underestimated, and he commended Ohio County for finding the financial resources to keep the officers in the schools, because across the state the officers' positions have been cut.
— Ms. Osborne implored parents put a stop to their own pill-popping and be good examples to their children.
The coalition is working toward not just individual change, but environmental change. One of the best ways to achieve that is through word of mouth. The coalition is asking us all to tell our friends and neighbors what we know about prescription drug abuse. Why not join the coalition to find out more? The next quarterly meeting is Jan. 8, 2014 at 12:30 p.m. Everyone is welcome. We are especially looking for parents, clergy and businesspeople to join the coalition's efforts. For information, find the coalition on Facebook or go to ocsapc.blogspot.com.
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