HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Vermont Ranks High In Prescribed Drug Use
Pubdate: Sun, 08 Jul 2001
Source: Times Argus (VT)
Copyright: 2001 Times Argus
Author: Damian Pagano


Wide Availability May Invite Abuse, Officials Say

Vermonters are consuming more of some potentially addictive prescription 
drugs than most other Americans, and some officials worry that it could be 
feeding the state's drug abuse problem.

According to recent statistics compiled by the federal Drug Enforcement 
Administration, Vermont ranks second in the nation for per capita 
consumption of Ritalin, used to treat attention deficit disorder in children.

Vermont's consumption of Ritalin is more than five times greater than 
Hawaii's, the lowest.

Vermont ranks fifth in the nation for per capita consumption of morphine 
and seventh for per capita consumption of medical cocaine, which can be 
used during surgery as an anesthetic.

And Vermont is 14th in the nation for consumption of oxycodone, an opiate 
derivative used as a painkiller. Consumption of that drug in Vermont is 
about six times greater than in Illinois, which ranked the lowest.

The statistics ranked all 50 states in order of grams consumed per 100,000 
people between 1997 and 2000, according to Vermont State Police Capt. Steve 
Miller, head of the Vermont Drug Task Force.

Morphine and medical cocaine are not commonly prescribed but are used in 
hospitals as aids in surgery, he said.

But Ritalin and oxycodone-based painkillers, like Vicodan, Percocet and 
OxyContin, are prescribed to patients.

And officials said the wide availability of those drugs, which can be 
addictive, could lead to an increase in cases of drug abuse.

"It's not surprising that as the availability has increased, more winds up 
in the streets," said Jeff McKee, the director of treatment for Rutland 
Mental Health Services, an organization that provides drug counseling. "We 
have seen, in the last few years, the increased use of Ritalin and 
OxyContin as street drugs."

McKee said teenagers now are abusing a wider range of drugs than in the 
past. He said it is not uncommon to see teenage clients who have 
recreationally used Ritalin, which when snorted gives the user a 
cocaine-like high, or OxyContin, which has an effect similar to heroin when 
snorted or injected.

But tracking cases of prescription drug abuse is difficult, Miller said. 
And so is determining why Vermont ranks so high for consumption of these drugs.

"We either have a lot of sick people, or we have doctors over-prescribing 
these drugs, or we have a lot of cases of abuse out there," he said. "It 
could be any one of the three."

Vermont lacks a prescription monitoring program, which some states have, to 
track who is getting the drugs and how much they are getting.

"The only way we can find out if an individual has visited 10 pharmacies in 
the same day to get the same drug is to go to each one of those 
pharmacies," he said. "And that is next to impossible."

And people often try to get illegitimate drugs.

"We do have it happen a lot," said Randy Pratico, the manager at Wilcox 
Pharmacy in Rutland.

He said people might forge a prescription on a form stolen from a doctor's 
office, or they might order a prescription over the phone under the guise 
of working for a doctor's office.

Or someone might even get a valid prescription after fooling a doctor into 
thinking he or she needed a drug when that wasn't the case, he said.

"A lot of people try to pull shady deals," he said.

OxyContin is a popular target right now, Pratico said. And as a result, he 
said, the staff at his pharmacy is trying to be more aware of potential fraud.

"We'll check with the doctor's office if there's any question about the 
prescription," he said. "We just want to make sure that people aren't 
getting drugs when they really don't need them."
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