GUEST COLUMN: More work needed to stop prescription drug abuse

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By The Staff

by Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiard

Early in March, I spoke at the Prescription Drug Addiction and Safety symposium in Hazard. This symposium was the culmination of a series of public forums aimed at finding a comprehensive approach to addressing our prescription drug problem in the Commonwealth.  Working with Operation UNITE and the Office of Drug Control Policy, my staff and I heard numerous stories about the heartache, fear and destruction of prescription drug abuse.  Undoubtedly, in order to really solve this problem, it is going to take a collaborative effort between local doctors, law enforcement officials, communities and other states.

Recently, federal agents raided three South Florida pain clinics suspected of funneling pills into the prescription pipeline that leads into Kentucky.  These pain clinics have a history of run-ins with the law—from doctors with suspended medical licenses to owners with criminal backgrounds.  Currently, a loophole exists in Florida that allows pain clinics to accept cash only, instead of insurance, to avoid state licensing laws.  Florida lawmakers are now trying to close this loophole.

I’m working with Florida authorities to address our shared prescription drug abuse problem.  While closing the legal loopholes in Florida is an important step, it is only one part of a bigger solution.  In October of last year, I testified before the Florida grand jury urging officials to institute a prescription drug monitoring system like our own here in the Commonwealth.  The strength of Kentucky’s All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting (KASPER) system is significantly compromised when other states lack the ability to monitor their own prescriptions, leading to the infiltration of a large amount of drugs from other states into ours.

We need greater cooperation between states.  Prescription drug abuse is not just a Florida problem or a Kentucky problem.  It is a problem that affects the citizens of all states—from the patients and their families to the doctors and nurses who treat them. According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, from 1992 to 2003 more than 15 million Americans abused prescription drugs.  That’s more than the number of people abusing cocaine, hallucinogens and heroin combined.  In addition, 19 percent of all teenagers report abusing prescription medications to get high. Kentucky’s Administrative Office of the Courts reported that in 2007, the number of prescription drug-related cases reached a five-year high of 7,136.

Law enforcement is doing its part by arresting prescription drug abusers; however, this creates a revolving door because many of those arrested need access to quality treatment facilities.  At the same time, our healthcare providers need to take appropriate precautions inside their medical offices.  Providers should improve their process of screening patients in order to establish clearer parameters about what is and is not acceptable behavior.

Kentucky can become the model for other states in fighting our prescription drug problem.  The ideas and suggestions generated during the symposium are a great first step, but we must do more.  We need to better educate people, from our classrooms to our courtrooms, to our lawmakers in both Frankfort and Washington.  Our elected representatives need to hear from their communities about best practices and how their money can best be utilized in order to get this epidemic under control.

Despite the hard work that lies ahead, I’m confident that by working together, we can make great strides in solving our substance abuse issues affecting countless individuals across the Commonwealth and the nation.