HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Prescription Abuse Still Deadly Threat
Pubdate: Fri, 07 Jan 2005
Source: Bristol Herald Courier (VA)
Copyright: 2005 Bristol Herald Courier
Bookmark: (Methadone)
Bookmark: (Oxycontin/Oxycodone)
Bookmark: (Treatment)


Four years ago, our region found itself in the grip of a killer.

We faced an epidemic of prescription drug abuse -- much of it
involving the potent time-released narcotic painkiller, OxyContin. We
fought back. We locked up the doctors who were nothing but glorified
pill-pushers, police rounded up street dealers and many doctors simply
stopped prescribing the high-powered drug.

It wasn't enough. While OxyContin abuse no longer dominates the
headlines, our region's deadly love affair with prescription
painkillers continues.

The proof came in a study by Virginia's Department of Health. That
study found that drug overdose deaths in Southwest Virginia tripled
from 1993 to 2003, jumping from 66 to 217.

At the height of the OxyContin epidemic in 2001, 164 people in our
region died of overdoses. But even after the OxyContin crackdown, that
number continued to climb. We remain in the throes of a prescription
drug abuse crisis with no easy solution in sight.

In fact, some counties in our region had overdose death rates that
beat out Richmond's death rate by 300 to 600 percent. Russell County,
which had 14 overdose fatalities in 2003, had the highest death rate
in the state -- 48.5 deaths per 100,000 people. Lee, Wise and Tazewell
counties all made the top 10.

Those statistics are a wake-up call for our region. There's much less
OxyContin available on the streets these days, but the twin problems
of addiction and abuse didn't go away. Instead, addicts found a new
drug of choice -- methadone.

The shift from OxyContin to methadone might indirectly be to blame for
some of the increase in overdose deaths. Methadone is slow-acting and
doesn't give the immediate pain relief of some other narcotics,
medical experts said. That might prompt users to combine it with other
painkillers, a potentially deadly mistake.

"All these drugs are dangerous. Any of them can kill you if they're
used improperly," Dr. John Dreyzehner, director of the Cumberland
Plateau Health District, said.

That's the take-home message here. By demonizing a single drug --
OxyContin -- we might have missed the bigger picture. We waged war on
Oxy but failed to address the underlying issues that play a role in
addiction and drug abuse. We locked up the dealers and the doctors but
didn't treat the users. And, the problem is still very much with us.

Some suggest part of the problem is cultural acceptance of drug use in
our region, particularly in the coalfields. Unemployment and the
prevalence of the disability lifestyle also are factors.

But recognizing the problem is the easy part. Now, comes the tough
work of finding solutions. Even the experts offer no quick fixes.

"Society doesn't have all the answers," Dreyzehner said. "But, if we
can educate people we can try to stem the tide."

It is an uphill battle, but it is one we must fight. Education about
the dangers of prescription drug misuse and treatment for those
already addicted are good places to start.
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