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MailTribune.com
  • Watch that medicine cabinet

    News that abusers of pain pills get them from friends, family should be a wakeup
  • A new study showing most people who abuse prescription pain pills get them from friends and relatives likely comes as no surprise to those who have a lost a loved one to addiction. But it may be news to many people, and that may help prevent further tragedies.
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  • A new study showing most people who abuse prescription pain pills get them from friends and relatives likely comes as no surprise to those who have a lost a loved one to addiction. But it may be news to many people, and that may help prevent further tragedies.
    The news of the study from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention came this week, just a day after a story in Sunday's Mail Tribune about a young Southern Oregon University graduate who died of a heroin overdose in November.
    Brett Johnson's story is not unique. He started using pain medication prescribed for his mother, who was dying of cancer, to ease his emotional pain. After he became addicted, he turned to heroin because it was easier to get.
    The CDC study found two-thirds of those who abuse prescription pain medications reported doing so infrequently, and more than half of those got them free from friends or relatives. The study analyzed four years of data on nonmedical use of painkillers including oxycodone and hydrocodone, drugs known as opioids that are chemically similar to opium. They are commonly known by the brand names OxyContin and Vicodin.
    One in 20 Americans age 12 and older abuse these drugs — a rate that has held steady in recent years. But overdose deaths from them are on the rise. more than tripling from 1999 to 2010, when deaths nationally totaled 16,000.
    Occasional users are less likely to overdose, but as the addiction takes hold and they use more frequently and in higher doses, the risk goes up. The study found that the heaviest users "doctor shop," obtaining pills from more than one prescriber. In Tennessee, used as a case study, nearly 8 percent of abusers used more than four prescribers, and were more than six times more likely to have fatal overdoses.
    Those who turn to heroin, as Brett Johnson did, are at increased risk for overdose as well, because users seldom know the strength of the drug they are buying.
    Public health officials suggest doctors should be on the lookout for signs of prescription misuse. In Southern Oregon, physicians have taken the proactive step of creating the Opioid Prescribers Group, an organization of 70 health care professionals in Jackson and Josephine counties meeting since 2011 to create community standards and best practices for prescribing pain medication and monitoring its use.
    The medical community is doing its part. But the CDC findings show what remains to be done: Each and every one of us must take responsibility for opioid medications prescribed to us and to our family members. Keep the medications secured, and turn in unused pills so they cannot be diverted for nonmedical use.
    Medical professionals can do only so much. The rest is up to all of us.
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