DEATHS DUE TO DRUG OVERDOSES SOARING

The following article was written by Leonard F. Weinfeld, M.S., R.Ph., a member of the Safe Communities Coalition. The article was published in The New Jersey Journal of Pharmacy.

It is well documented that deaths due to drug overdoses are dramatically increasing in both men and women. According to an article in the Star Ledger, "In 2011, 1,008 New Jerseyans died from prescription and illegal drug overdoses, according to the state Department of Law and Public Safety. Treatment centers in New Jersey reported 7,238 admissions for painkiller addictions in 2010."(1) The use of heroin is on the rise. In 2012, over 9,500 bags of heroin were seized and in 2013, over 5,500 bags were seized year to date. One gram of heroin can be cut to make 50 bags. The vast number of burglaries are done to obtain money to maintain an individual's drug habit.

This overwhelming problem can be reduced in many ways, two of which will be discussed herein. The first is the Safe Communities Coalition and the second is the efforts of the pharmacists to be alert to improper prescriptions and the use of the Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP).

A primary objective of the Safe Communities Coalition is to eliminate illicit and recreational drug use and prescription drug abuse. The author is a member of the Coalition, which has had focus groups of local students who have shown the extent of the problem. Students have stated that at some colleges, they know who to contact at any given time to obtain any drug for personal or recreational use. A clear progression of addiction from Rx pills to illicit substances, such as heroin, was identified. In order to obtain narcotics for personal use, students who are already addicted, will take prescription drugs from a parents' or grandparents' medicine cabinets.

As a result, a video "From Pills to Heroin" has been produced and will be shown to Civic groups. The video shows the progression from prescription pain medication to heroin. It also describes the impact on the user and the user's family. The Coalition is working on having the video shown to students as part of their school curriculum. The intent of showing the video is to educate students to understand why they should not start to use prescription drugs for recreational purposes.

In addition, successful efforts of the Coalition have been to increase drug Drop Off boxes throughout Somerset County and a poster contest. The posters will be used to increase public awareness of the availability of the Drop Off boxes. The boxes can be used by the public to drop off out-dated, unused or unwanted drugs, including narcotics and other drugs of abuse. This will reduce a source of the prescription drugs for improper use.

Secondly, and very importantly, pharmacists are at the forefront of the effort. By being alert for inappropriate prescriptions and patterns of requesting prescriptions, and using the PMP as required by the State, the pharmacist can assist in reducing the availability of drugs for recreational or street use. This, in turn, has an important affect on reducing burglaries in order to obtain money to support a patient's addiction.

Furthermore, the pharmacy and pharmacist can educate patients about the need to properly store narcotic and controlled drugs in a safe place. Informing patients on the need to discard unused medications and about the availability of Drop Boxes and Drop Off Days is beneficial. The availability of the Boxes varies from county to county.

In conclusion, through a cooperative effort of organizations such as the Coalition and physicians and pharmacists, the availability of narcotic drugs can be reduced. The devastation to families from an addicted member can be diminished and lives can be saved.

(1) Mike Stobbe, Associated Press, July 3, 2013; Susan K. Livio, Staff Writer, Star Ledger, Contributor.



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