Turning the tide of prescription drug abuse
Even with a steady stream of publicity about the dangers of prescription drug abuse, the epidemic continues to spiral out of control in New Jersey.
In an effort to find solutions to the problem, a Do No Harm Symposium held at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital on Wednesday brought together doctors, pharmacists, prevention organizations and the law enforcement community.
"With this type of epidemic, it's critically important that everyone is engaged and looking at ways to be able to reverse the tremendously alarming trends we have in New Jersey," said Angelo Valente, executive director of the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey.
Valente said some doctors are improperly writing prescriptions for pain medications like Oxycontin, but there are many other physicians "that are maybe not as aware as they need to be about the harmful effects that some of these opiate-based medications are having on patients."
He also said the current Prescription Monitoring Program, which is voluntary, needs to be refined, expanded and improved "so that everyone is aware and knowledgeable of their patients and whether or not those patients may have addiction issues, or may be using these medications for illegal purposes."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in 2012, 259 million prescriptions were written for painkillers, enough for every adult in America to have their own bottle of pills. Every day, 46 people die from prescription drug overdoses.
One of the featured speakers at the symposium, Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew Carey, said it's absolutely imperative for law enforcement to have a partnership with the medical community.
"We need to regulate the drugs and help people that need medication," he said, "but also make sure they're not getting addicted."
Carey said the high rate of prescription pain medication abuse is leading to a heroin addiction in many cases, because heroin is cheaper and easier to get.
He also said law enforcement is cracking down on doctors who improperly write pain medication prescriptions for profit, but "we know we're not going to arrest our way out of the problem from somebody goes from Oxy to heroin. We really need to stop them from getting addicted in the first place."
The prosecutor added that the Prescription Monitoring Program was a good start but it needs to be expanded and made mandatory.
"We will be vigilant, and I can assure the community we will continue to go after the drug dealers, whether they be doctors or anybody else," Carey said. "We need to talk to the doctors and let them know -- we're going to work with you, but if you're doing it for profit, doing something wrong, we'll come after you too."
The moderator of the symposium was New Jersey 101.5 News Director Eric Scott.