You may not know it, but you should: prescription drug abuse is America's fastest-growing drug problem and it is in Oregon as well. This problem is a serious public health threat.
In our state last year, there were 315 deaths caused by prescription drug overdoses. That number is more than three times that of homicide victims (85) and approaches the number of Oregonians killed in traffic crashes (377).
Oregon also has the highest rate of painkiller abuse among 18- to 25-year-olds. Just last month, four Oregon students had to be taken to the hospital because of OxyContin overdoses. One boy said he got the pills at home -- from his mother's prescription -- and brought them to school. Nationally, about 20 percent of high school seniors say they have taken the drug to get high.
These facts should compel us to address this problem now. That is why I applaud Governor Ted Kulongoski, Attorney General John Kroger and U.S. Attorney Dwight Holton for convening a Prescription Drug Summit last month to raise awareness about and address this mounting crisis and the ease with which Oregonians can find these drugs.
It is clear we need to reduce the volume of these medications that are in the hands of Oregonians inappropriately. At the Oregon Health Authority, we launched a prescription drug abuse task force about six months ago to look at what we can do to help reduce the inappropriate use of medications by patients and the over-prescribing of medications by doctors, dentists and other medical professionals. The task force has also been working with our Division of Medical Assistance Programs and Addictions and Mental Health Division to tackle the issues of quantity controls, pharmacist training and the interactions that may occur between drugs prescribed for a patient's medical and mental health care.
We are also working hard to get our Prescription Drug Monitoring Program up and running. This program, scheduled to go live in May, will help doctors and pharmacists identify where abuse may occur, letting pharmacists and doctors know when a client is either doctor shopping or pharmacy shopping for drugs that may be abused.
There are simple steps we all can take, too. The first one is to get unneeded drugs out of our home medicine cabinets and safely disposed of. More than 70 percent of people who abuse prescription drugs get them from friends or family, usually from the home medicine cabinet.
So my challenge to you today is when you get home, take a good look around. Do you have prescription drugs that you no longer need or are out-of-date? Do children have access to these? Are you keeping some old painkillers "just in case?"
Many communities offer "take back" programs to safely dispose of prescription drugs and protect the environment and water quality at the same time. Keep your eye out for those opportunities that are held throughout the year in your local community.
But let's face it, you should get rid of those unwanted or expired pills now, rather than wait for a community "take back" event. There's a very easy way to dispose of those drugs:
- Take them out of their original containers.
- Mix the pills with coffee grounds or kitty litter.
- Put them into a sealable plastic bag or other container and place them in your household trash.
You've just made your home safer for you and your family, and you've continued to help in the mission to make Oregonians safe and healthy.