The difference between prescription drug abusers and patients who need the drugs is abusers fail and patients function, a pain management physician told Kenai Peninsula medical providers and police Tuesday.
About 25 people, including pharmacists, physicians, nurses, police from Soldotna, Kenai and Homer, and Alaska State Troopers learned the ins and outs of prescription drugs during a half-day seminar put on by the Soldotna Police Department and the Community Action Coalition.
Dr. Sherry Siegel, the risk management and health policy medical director for Purdue Pharma, told the group, “getting rid of the difficult medicines is not the answer.”
“One in five adults suffers from chronic pain,” Siegel said, adding that prescription drugs that help the sufferers often get diverted into the hands of drug abusers or those who supply the drugs illegally.
Siegel and Landon Gibbs, a retired Virginia State Police officer who is also a Purdue Pharma employee working in drug education, walked the medical providers and law enforcement officers through a comprehensive list of prescription drugs frequently misused, told them methods of drug diversion used by abusers and offered some ideas on how to combat the illegal use of legal drugs.
Referring to a report from the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN), Gibbs said the number one substance abused in the nation is alcohol in combination with other drugs, followed on the list by cocaine, marijuana, heroin and then narcotics.
He said 44 percent of emergency department mentions were related to nonmedical use of prescription and over-the-counter medicine, according to the 2002 DAWN report.
The most commonly abused prescription drug in the nation is hydrocodone, Gibbs said, often prescribed as Vicodin.
The Community Action Coalition formed three years ago in response to a report that the Kenai Peninsula had only 6 percent of the state’s population, but 15 percent of the Medicaid prescriptions for Oxycontin a form of oxycodone.
The goal of the medical community is to have the potent pain drugs available to doctors and their patients, but not to drug abusers, Gibbs said.
He was quick to add that “94 percent of the people who get prescription drugs use them as prescribed.”
Gibbs said one way those prescribing the typically abused drugs to patients can protect them from being diverted is to request a photo identification from all new patients and from anyone picking up a prescription.
Doctors can also write out the number of pills being prescribed so the number cannot be altered before the prescription is presented to the druggist.
He said physicians should write prescriptions on copy-resistant prescription pads, which are available at no cost to doctors.
Siegel told those in attendance at the Kenai River Center seminar that the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse reported “41 percent of doctors misdiagnosed addiction in youth,” and said, “94 percent failed to diagnose substance abuse in adults with symptoms of early alcohol abuse.”
Defining addiction as a neuro-biological disease with genetic, psychological and environmental factors, Siegel said it manifests itself in people “in what we refer to as the five Cs: chronic; compulsive use; control is lost; craving; and continued use despite harm.”
Phil Hermanek can be reached at email@example.com.
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