Since 1999, sales of prescription painkillers in the United States have quadrupled. So have the number of fatal poisonings due to prescription painkillers, according to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Prescription drug misuse is now responsible for more deaths than heroin and cocaine combined.
Despite these shocking statistics, a new report from Trust for America’s Health finds many states are lacking effective strategies to curb prescription drug abuse.
The report, titled “Prescription Drug Abuse: Strategies to Stop the Epidemic,” shows more than half the states scored a six or less on the advocacy organization’s scale, which assesses the ways states are trying to combat prescription drug abuse. Only two states, New Mexico and Vermont, scored 10 out of 10.
“In the past two decades we’ve seen many advances in the development of new prescription drugs, which have been a miracle for many,” said Jeff Levi, executive director of Trust for America’s Health. “But we’ve also seen a corresponding rise in misuse, and the consequences can be dire.”
There is some good news. The estimated number of Americans who abuse prescription drugs was 6.1 million in 2011, down from 7 million the previous year, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. But the number of drug overdose deaths, the majority of which are due to prescription drugs, has doubled in 29 states since 1999, according to this new report. And in some of those states the number of deaths has tripled, or even quadrupled.
Trust for America’s Health evaluated each state on several strategies that have shown promise in fighting against prescription drug abuse. One was prescription drug monitoring programs, which help pharmacists and doctors identify patients who are “doctor shopping,” or visiting various doctors to fill more prescriptions. While 49 of the 50 states had these programs in place, only 16 required medical providers to use them, according to the report.
The organization also looked at Rescue Drug laws in each state. “Rescue Drug” refers to the prescription drug naloxone, which has shown to be effective in counteracting an overdose.
“People who have to take these pain relievers or who are caring for someone taking them may want to explore whether they can get a prescription for naloxone to have it on hand as a rescue drug in the event of an overdose,” said Andrea Geilen, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy.
But researchers found just 17 states, and Washington D.C., allow the general population to access and administer this drug.
The report also evaluated laws that require special education for medical providers who prescribe prescription painkillers. Fewer than half the states had enacted laws addressing this issue.
“Many providers do not receive adequate training about how some medications can be misused, how some patients can develop drug dependence and how to provide effective patient education,” Geilen said.
Trust for America’s Health found the highest rates of drug overdose deaths in Appalachia and in the Southwest, with West Virginia topping the list at 28.9 deaths per every 100,000 people. By comparison, North Dakota had the lowest rate, at 3.4 per every 100,000. Drug overdose deaths now exceed motor-vehicle related deaths in 29 states, according to the report.
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