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Awareness, Disposal Key Elements to Reversing Tide of Prescription Drug Abuse

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Awareness, Disposal Key Elements to Reversing Tide of Prescription Drug Abuse

Picture of Bill Macfadyen

This article was written by Noozhawk Staff Writer Giana Magnoli as part of Day 10 in Noozhawk's 12-day, six-week special investigative series. Related links are below.

The Noozhawk's Prescription for Abuse series is a special project exploring the misuse and abuse of prescription medications in Santa Barbara County. Our series is a result of an exciting and unique partnership with USC's Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, which awarded Noozhawk a California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowship to undertake this important work.

Through our reporting and presentation, we will establish an independent baseline of where our community is with respect to the misuse and abuse of prescription medications; how the problem is affecting health care, education, law enforcement, criminal justice, addiction and treatment, and our culture and society; what we as a community can do to educate ourselves about prevention and controls; and how we can perhaps reverse what appears to be a very troubling trend.

Noozhawk staff writers Lara Cooper and Giana Magnoli are the lead reporters on the project, and they've been assisted by managing editor Michelle Nelson; reporters Alex Kacik and Sonia Fernandez; interns Kristin Crosier, Jessica Ferguson, Tim Fucci, Kristen Gowdy, Jessica Haro, Daniel Langhorne, Alexa Shapiro, Sam Skopp, Erin Stone and Sarah Webb; photographers Garrett Geyer and Nick St.Oegger; content producer Cliff Redding; and Web development staffers Will Macfadyen and Edgar Oliveira.

Ashley Almada, Garrett Geyer, Hailey Sestak and Billy Spencer of the Santa Barbara Teen News Network filmed more than two dozen public-service videos featuring many of our story sources.

The project is sponsored by the Santa Barbara Foundation in partnership with KEYT, sbTNN and Zona Seca. The Annenberg School is assisted by the Renaissance Journalism Center at San Francisco State University.


Day One:

» Quiet Epidemic of Prescription Drug Abuse Taking a Toll on Santa Barbara County

» After Losing It All, Former Drug Addict Looking Forward to Renewed Life

» USC, California Endowment Unite to Support Health Journalism at the Source

» Bill Macfadyen: Prescription for Abuse Project Is a Series of Opportunities

Day Two:

» Local, National Statistics Reveal Alarming Jumps in Misuse and Abuse of Medications

» Marijuana Use Trends Higher, Especially Among Young Adults, Sparking Public Health Concerns

» Alcohol Plays a Role All Its Own in Setting the Stage for Local Abuse, Overdoses

Day Three:

» Understanding Addiction Key to Dealing With Prescription Drug Abuse

» Donna Genera Has Seen the Price and Perils of Drug Addiction from All Sides

» Rich Detty Bears Burden of Not Knowing Extent of Dead Son's Drug Use

Day Four:

» Escalation of Drug Overdose Deaths Includes Increased Presence of Prescription Medications

» Santa Barbara Teen News Network Adds Another Dimension to Prescription Drug Abuse Series

» Dr. Chris Lambert Sounds Warning on Mixing Prescription Drugs with Alcohol

Day Five:

» Local Oversight of Prescription Medications Is Far More Focused Than State, Federal Controls

» Elderly Are Particularly Vulnerable to Both Misuse and Abuse of Prescription Drugs

» Second-Generation Pharmacist Peter Caldwell Fills a Vital Role with Patient Health Care

Day Six:

» Early Education for Parents and Youth Emerges as Critical Tactic to Thwart Drug Use

» Student Highs Can Lead to Tragic Woes with Addiction's Hook Just One Fateful Step Away

» From an Early Age, Shereen Khatapoush Saw the Horrors of Substance Abuse

» As a Parent Herself, Prosecutor Von Nguyen Brings Empathy to Job in Juvenile Justice

Day Seven:

» Law Enforcement Fights Battle Against Prescription Drug Abuse from Outside and Inside

» Sheriff Bill Brown a Strong Supporter of Re-Entry, Drug Abuse Treatment Efforts

» Speaking from Experience, Zona Seca's Kevin Smith Keeps Drug Abusers on Road to Recovery

Day Eight:

» Prescription Drug System Is Rife with Loopholes, Fraud and Lack of Oversight

» For Clinical Psychologist Neil Rocklin, Addiction Education Can't Begin Soon Enough

Day Nine:

» Drug Abuse Treatment Programs, Expertise Are Plentiful on South Coast

» Dr. David Agnew Sees Pain as Pathway to Abuse But Cautions Against Overreaction

Day Ten:

» Awareness, Disposal Key Elements to Reversing Tide of Prescription Drug Abuse

» Dr. Joe Blum Keeps Focus on His Veteran Patients Despite Health-Care System's Restraints

Day Eleven:

» Operation Medicine Cabinet Gets the Drop on Prescription Drug Disposal

» Lacey Johnson Gives UCSB Students an Education in Dealing with Drug Abuse and Addiction

Day Twelve:

» Santa Barbara County Officials Look for Solutions in Battle Against Prescription Drug Abuse

» Noozhawk Journalists Recount Lessons Learned from Prescription Drug Abuse Series

» Annenberg Fellowships Take a Diverse Approach to Community Health Journalism

» Dr. Nancy Leffert Champions Antioch University's Role in Fight Against Substance Abuse

» Professionals Working in Addiction Field Often Share Roots at Antioch University Santa Barbara

Get prepared so you'll know what to look for, how to ask questions and where to properly dispose of the drugs
Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Local addiction experts, health-care practitioners and law enforcement officials have known for years that prescription drug abuse is a problem in Santa Barbara County and have taken action. But the entire community can help by knowing the signs of abuse and the available resources for prevention, intervention and treatment.

Nationally, the number of patients treated in emergency rooms for prescription drug overdoses doubled between 2004 and 2008, to 305,885, and death rates have risen astronomically since the late 1990s.

In Santa Barbara County, there were 111 drug- and alcohol-related deaths in 2009, the most recent year of complete data, and county Coroner’s Office records show the presence of prescription medications in many of those cases. Most of the deaths aren’t from toddlers accidentally ingesting a pill or elderly people mixing up their medications, either; they’re teens or adults who intentionally or accidentally abuse multiple drugs.

People are known to develop abuse patterns and dependence through legitimate or recreational use and often don’t have any trouble getting access to the drugs they crave. In fact, the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use & Health noted that more than 70 percent of people who abused prescription painkillers reported getting them from friends or relatives, which is why proper and timely disposal of drugs is an effective way everyone can help cut down on abuse.

In 2009, the Sheriff’s Department launched Operation Medicine Cabinet with thecounty Public Works Department’s Resource Recovery and Waste Management Division to address four problem areas: youth abuse, accidental child ingestion, improper or accidental use by adults, and pollution of water supplies.

Residents can drop off unused, expired or unwanted medications at any of the nine sheriff’s substations throughout the county, for free. The program receives about one ton of prescription drugs every three months, and the drugs are later incinerated. Hazardous waste collection centers cannot take controlled substances, which many medications are, but the Operation Medicine Cabinet drop-off boxes are located here:

» Carpinteria: 5775 Carpinteria Ave. (in the lobby)

» Santa Barbara: 4434 Calle Real

» Goleta: 7042 Marketplace Drive in Camino Real Marketplace

» Isla Vista: 6504 Trigo Road

» Lompoc: 3500 Harris Grade Road

» Buellton: 140 W. Highway 246

» Solvang: 1745 Mission Drive

» Santa Maria: 812-A W. Foster Road

» New Cuyama: 215 Newsome St.

Federal drug disposal guidelines have changed over the past few years and different disposal methods are recommended for different drugs, but any kind of medication can be deposited in the drop-off boxes.

Current Food and Drug Administration guidelines ask that most drugs be thrown away in sealed bags together with some “unpalatable” material like kitty litter or used coffee grounds. Some drugs — mostly strong painkillers like Opana,OxyContin and Percocet — should be flushed because they can be harmful or fatal in just a single dose if used by someone other than the prescribed patient, according to the FDA.

Click here for additional information on how to properly dispose of medications.

Another option is Walgreens’ Safe Medication Disposal Program, in which customers can purchase an envelope at a Walgreens pharmacy to mail prescription or over-the-counter drugs to an incinerator facility to be destroyed. Law enforcement officials make sure no envelope is tampered with or opened before being incinerated, authorities say.

Experts in the field warn that many people who abuse prescription medications consider the drugs safer since they come from a physician and not some stranger’s garage. Not true, they say.

“The realities are that a legally prescribed drug taken recklessly will kill you just as quickly as an illicit drug,”Sheriff Bill Brown told Noozhawk.

As Noozhawk’s Prescription for Abuse series reported Monday, there are many treatment options locally and elsewhere for inpatient and outpatient programs. No one program will suit everyone, but there are resources available to help find the appropriate one.

The Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration has an online drug and alcohol abuse treatment facility locator, which details the program services, type of care and method of payment for every facility. Click here for the treatment locator.

Santa Barbara County’s Bringing Our Community Home initiative hosts a similar database, but only for local programs.

Before sitting down to talk to someone about possible substance abuse, make sure to be educated on the individual’s specific abuse, addiction and treatment professionals advise.

National Institute on Drug Abuse offers a number of tips to identify possible signs of substance abuse. Among them: a frequent need to fill prescriptions and change doctors, mood changes, changes in sleeping and eating habits, decreased energy, lowered work ethic or absences from school, impaired coordination, an unexplained need for money or other financial problems, and a sudden change in acquaintances or activities.

“The possibility of becoming an addict is so real now, because of the different levels of potencies and type of drugs and how much more accessible everything is,” said Deputy District Attorney Von Nguyen, who worked for years as a juvenile prosecutor.

“Our kids are in much higher danger of being addicted.”

Adolescents often abuse over-the-counter medications like cold and cough drugs in addition to alcohol, marijuana and prescription drugs.

Young people often change their behavior patterns when they are using — or abusing — drugs or alcohol, Nguyen says. Some signs of possible abuse include becoming more defensive, pulling away from parents, hanging out with a new group of friends, and experiencing a drop in grades, she said.

If you expect your child is using drugs or alcohol, get educated and talk to them, professionals say.

“The Anti-Drug” campaign suggests keeping the following in mind when talking to your child:

» Tell your son or daughter that you love him or her, and you are worried that he or she might be using drugs or alcohol.

» You know that drugs may seem like the thing to do, but doing drugs can have serious consequences.

» It makes you feel worried and concerned about them when they do drugs.

» You are there to listen to them.

» You want them to be a part of the solution.

» You tell him or her what you will do to help them.

» Know that you will have this discussion many, many times. Talking to your child about drugs and alcohol is not a one-time event.

— Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk,@NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.