Oakland warns health experts of prescription drug abuse

Mike Martindale
The Detroit News

This article has been updated to correct the date of the training event.

Pontiac — Oakland County officials announced Tuesday they will offer physicians training this fall as part of an effort to curb the abuse of painkillers and other prescription drugs by young people.

The training program is part of the Oakland County Prescription Drug Abuse Partnership, according to county health and human services director George Miller, who hosted a press conference along with County Executive L. Brooks Patterson and Sheriff Michael Bouchard.

Prescription drug abuse is a national problem and studies have pegged prescription opioid abuse costs at nearly $56 billion in 2007. An estimated 83 people abuse prescription drugs every hour (over 2,000 a day) and four in 10 teens who misused a prescription drug said they took it from their parent’s medicine cabinet believing it safer than using street drugs.

“Prescription drug abuse is a very serious problem everywhere and unfortunately Oakland County is following the rest of the country,” Miller said. “Prescription drugs, especially pain medication, is over prescribed and abused. It can be deadly and those addicted to it will steal it from medicine cabinets of family and friends. And it is often a pathway to other drugs, such as heroin.”

County deaths from prescription drugs are hard to count but more than 200 people died in 2014 from overdoses of heroin and other drugs, according to Oakland County Sheriff’s Captain Joe Quisenberry, who heads the sheriff’s Narcotics Enforcement Team. Quisenberry said drug deaths this year will likely match or surpass last year’s totals

Nationally, opioid overdoses account for at least 16,000 deaths every year in the U.S., or almost two deaths per hour.

Miller said the training program, to be done by Boston University School of Medicine, is designed to help make professionals more aware of the problem and of other forms of pain management.

Miller said initially they hope to reach 200 to 300 physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants at the free session which will be videotaped and made available to others.

A drug awareness campaign is part of the effort, including ads already on buses, Miller said. A current ad has a teenager examining pill bottles in a medicine cabinet with the caption: “I could be taking your prescription drugs.”

“Opioids are a narcotic used to control pain, often for sports-related injuries,” Miller said. “They are highly addictive and when a person runs out, (they) will turn to just about anything in an effort to self-medicate. Drugs like oxycontin and hydrocodone and methadone are very expensive on the black market and drug dealers will offer other illegal drugs, including heroin.”

Other officials stressed the need is great for public awareness and cooperation in curbing prescription drug abuse, which Patterson described as “a growing menace.”

“Prescription drugs and prescription drug abuse are driving an epidemic of overdose deaths, which include Oakland County,” he said. “Prescription drugs account for nearly 60 percent of all deaths from drug overdose.”

Bouchard said his department enables residents to properly dispose of unused or expired medications through his Operation Medicine Cabinet initiative at 32 locations in the county.

Dr. Tressa Gardner, an emergency room physician at McLaren Oakland Hospital in Pontiac, said, “Chronic pain affects approximately 100 million in the U.S, making it one of the most common reasons for patients to seek medical care.”

Gardner said pain management and proper uses of opioids — as well as consequences — need to be emphasized in medical training.

Among disturbing facts quoted from a 2012 Partnership Attitude Study:

■ More than a quarter of teens (27 percent) mistakenly believe misusing and abusing prescription drugs is safer than using street drugs

■ One third of teens (33 percent) say they believe “it’s OK to use prescription drugs that were not prescribed to them to deal with an injury, illness or physical pain.”

■ More than four in 10 teens (42 percent) who have misused or abused a prescription drug obtained it from their parent’s medicine cabinet


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Taking part in program

■ It will be offered from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Oct. 3 at Oakland Schools, 2111 Pontiac Lake Road, Waterford Township.

■ For details or to sign-up for the program, go to www.OakGov.com/Health

■ The partnership includes representatives from the Alliance of Coalitions for Healthy Communities, Area Agency on Aging 1B, Beaumont Health Systems, Bryan’s Hope, City of Farmington Hills, Huron Valley Sinai Hospital, Milford Counseling, Oakland County Community Mental Health Authority, Oakland County Health Division, Oakland County Sheriff’s Office, Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine, St. Joseph Mercy Oakland, Waterford Schools, and 51st and 52nd District courts.