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Prescription drug abuse a big problem in Ohio

March 25, 2012
By PAT ROSS - Administrative Assistant, Columbiana County MHRS Board , Salem News

LISBON - Ohio Governor John Kasich has made prescription drug abuse and addiction a project he has taken to heart. The recent death of pop superstar Whitney Houston, and the overdose deaths of other celebrities like Amy Winehouse, Michael Jackson, and Heath Ledger have put renewed focus across the nation of the troubling prescription drug abuse problem.

Kasich said, "Prescription drug abuse and addiction is an epidemic that I've taken head on. It's killing people, killing families, and killing communities. Corrupt doctors are preying on people and too many people are looking the other way. We're going to bring it to an end, and I've taken a number of steps to crack down on this crime. We also need to help those who've fallen into the grips of addiction so they can get treatment and get back to work."

While Houston's exact cause of death has not been released, officials say prescription drugs, including Xanax, Ativan, and Valium, which are used to treat anxiety and sleep disorders - and alcohol were found in the her Beverly Hills hotel room. The combination of these drugs with alcohol can make a potentially deadly cocktail.

Anti-anxiety medication were linked to the deaths of Winehouse, Jackson, and Ledger.

These drugs, as well as opiates such as OxyContin and Vicodin, and alcohol are all central nervous system depressants. When any of these - alone or in various combinations- are consumed in excessive amounts, the respiratory system can shut down, and death can occur.

The brain essentially falls asleep. Like alcohol, narcotic painkillers and anti-anxiety medications can be addictive.

Ohio does indeed have an opiate problem:

- From 2000 2008, there was more than a 300 percent increase in overdose deaths where opiates were listed on death certificates. (Source: Ohio Department of Health)

- In 2010, over 776 million doses of opiates were prescribed in Ohio. That equals 67 doses for every man, woman, and child in the state. (Ohio Automated Rx Reporting System)

- Prescription painkillers accounted for nearly 37 percent of unintentional overdose deaths in 2008. (Ohio Department of Health)

Last year, more than 1,000 individuals gathered in Columbus for Ohio's Opiate Epidemic: A Summit on Policy, Prevention, and Treatment.

The Summit brought together physicians, professionals from health care, addiction, prevention, and treatment, judges, prosecutors, and law enforcement professionals to gain a common understanding of the problems and best practice solutions to address opiate abuse, addiction, and diversion.

At the Summit, Governor Kasich announced the creation of a project designed to develop community opiate task forces in 10 Ohio communities and the Recovery to Work project that will help to provide treatment and vocational rehabilitation services to individuals in need.

Orman Hall, Director of the Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services, (ODADAS) points out: "Oxycodone is virtually identical to heroin. Also alarming is the fact Americans account for 4.5 percent of the world's population, but we consume 99 percent of all the hydrocodone (Vicodin), and we consume 81 percent of all of the oxycodone (Percoset), which is OxyContin."

In the late 1990s, according to Hall, there were fundamental changes in chronic pain guidelines that resulted in rapid and dramatic escalation of prescription opiates. Dr. Douglas Teller, internal medicine and addiction medicine specialist for Kettering Health Network, adds that today's fast-paced society - in which deadlines loom and the pressure to succeed is great - has, in part, made Americans accustomed to quick fixes for pain management.

Experts warn that children can gain access to their parents' unused sedative or painkiller prescriptions and abuse them. All it takes is a naive teenager to drink alcohol, says Teller, and then pop Xanax and Vicodin to turn careless drug experimentation into respiratory arrest and death.

Eric Wandersleben, communications manager for ODADAS has this mantra: "Educate. Communicate. Safeguard." "Talk to your kids about the dangers of drugs. Whitney Houston's untimely death provides the perfect opportunity for parents or caregivers to sit down with their children and have that conversation," says Wandersleben. "They need to know the facts, the risks and the consequences." He also presses for proper disposal of unused prescription medications to make sure they don't get into the wrong hands. Each year, Columbiana County holds "Take Back Drugs" days where several sites are provided for proper disposal of drugs.

In Columbiana County, the number of adults receiving treatment for opiate abuse and addiction through the publicly funded treatment system has risen steadily over recent years, mirroring the state-wide epidemic.

In Fiscal Year 2008, 165 people were treated for opiate disorders. In only the first half of Fiscal Year 2012, 316 were in treatment.

The Columbiana County MHRS Board's priorities include prevention of substance abuse and the provision of effective treatment for persons with addictions. For more information, please call the MHRS Board at 330-424-0195, or visit the Board's website:

The ADAPT (Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention Team) Coalition, which is partially funded by the MHRS Board, is a great source of information for parents and community members who are interested in preventing youth substance abuse.

Contact ADAPT at 330-424-1468 or visit the ADAPT website at



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