Coalition for a Drug Free Greater Cincinnati hosts town hall to combat prescription drug abuse

MONTGOMERY, Ohio - Matt and Terrie’s son suffered from prescription pain killer addiction for three years.

They say it was not only a problem for their son, but it’s an issue plaguing young men and women throughout the region. Local leaders and experts agreed at a prescription drug town hall meeting hosted by the Coalition for a Drug Free Greater Cincinnati Thursday night in Montgomery.

“We figured as long as the doctor was prescribing the medicine, he should continue taking them,” said Matt, who requested his last name be withheld.

Their son was diagnosed with abdominal nerve entrapment syndrome when he was 20, and was prescribed an assortment of prescription drugs. And when his tolerance to the drugs increased, he just kept taking more. Doctors, they say, didn’t warn them of the long-term effects of prescription drug use.

“He actually began to feel even more pain as his tolerance grew,” Terrie said of her son, a Kings High School graduate.

Among the speakers Thursday night was Hamilton County Coroner Lakshmi Sammarco, who said the number of overdose deaths is increasing at an alarming rate.

In 2011, 189 people died from drug overdoses, 56 of them dying from a heroin overdose, she said. By comparison, 78 people died in motor vehicle accidents, according to statistics obtained by WCPO earlier this year.

Last year, there were 204 overdose deaths, 51 because of heroin.

“The number of kids using is up to 10 percent by the time they get to senior year of high school,” Sammarco said.

Statewide, the rate in unintentional opoid drug overdoses slowed by half in 2011 compared to 2010, according to the Ohio Departments of Health and Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS).

The percent of increase in deaths tied to opioid drug overdoses in 2011 was cut by 50 percent compared to 2010 -- from a 26 percent increase in 2010 to a 13 percent increase in 2011. But the number of actual deaths increased from 1,544 to 1,765. The OhioMHAS insists the number is "unacceptably high."

That's the highest number for deaths on record. Meaning, nearly five Ohioans died every day from unintentional drug overdose, or one every five hours. There has been a 440 percent increase in statewide drug overdose deaths since 1999, from 327 to 1,765.

One of the panelists, Dr. Shawn Ryan, an emergency medical physician with UC and Mercy Health, said physicians are beginning to implement better screening procedures to identify patients who are susceptible to prescription drug abuse.

“We are still somewhat behind in trying to understand how to handle a majority of these patients’ prescriptions,” Ryan said. “ … You may prescribe to a person you didn’t think you were going to and you may not prescribe to a person you thought you might.”

Warren County Drug Task Force Detective Dennis Luken wants to see more photo identification checks when picking up prescription drug at local pharmacies in an effort to hold people accountable and to more closely monitor who is abusing prescription drugs.

“Back in the 1990s, it was determined that pain was grossly undertreated,” Luken said. “Marry that with the aggressive marketing of the pharmaceutical companies and here we are today.”

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