Prescription Drug Abuse on Tybee…

August 2, 2010 by  
Filed under Headlines, Health & Fitness, News

Prescription Drug Abuse on Tybee Continues to be a Problem

By Jerry K. Williams, Jr., MD

Recently, in the July 12th issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, an important study reported that a single screening question may identify drug use in primary care patients.

“Drug use (illicit drug use and non medical use of prescription drugs) is common but under-recognized in primary care settings,” writes Peter C. Smith, MD, MSc, from Boston Medical Center and Boston University School of Medicine in Massachusetts and colleagues. He continues, “We validated a single question screening test for drug use and drug use disorders in primary care.”

This one question was tested against the 10-item Drug Abuse Screening Test (DAST-10), a widely accepted screening tool for drug use or a drug use disorder (abuse or dependence):  “How many times in the past year have you used an illegal drug or used a prescription medication for non medical reasons?”  This one question was shown to have a 100% sensitivity for identifying a drug use disorder and was 73.5% specific.  Of note, participant demographic characteristics had very little effect on test characteristics.  In other words, this question works regardless of how much money the participant made or their level in society.

The truth is that prescription drug abuse is an epidemic that is sweeping our country.  Florida has recently had to pass legislation that has shut down doctors’ offices that were being run as “Pain Clinics” where patients were given prescriptions for narcotics and other addictive medications AND an onsite pharmacy in the very same office was dispensing the medications to the patients.  These pill-mills are already starting to show up here in Georgia, now that they have been legislated out of business by our neighbor to the south.

The problem becomes more complicated when patients legitimately go to a doctor with very real pain and get prescribed narcotics such as hydrocodone and oxycodone.  They assume that these medications and this practice must be safe or “my doctor would not give them to me,” but this is a dangerous assumption.  Using narcotics for chronic pain frequently leads to dependence or addiction.  Narcotic dependence or addiction is just that, regardless of whether the narcotic is a prescription drug or heroine obtained off the street, and the effects on people’s lives are equally devastating.

In my brief time seeing patients here on Tybee, I see a couple of dangerous trends regarding prescription drug abuse.  The first being as above when a patient says:  “I have real pain and my doctor gives me this medication.”  I understand these patients’ rationalizations of their problem, as I have worked with chronic pain patients throughout my career, but the second trend is more frightening:  “This is how we do things on Tybee and you just don’t understand.”   Protecting this dangerous practice by members of our community has certainly had devastating effects on peoples’ lives here on Tybee and will continue to do so until we recognize that prescription drug dependence and abuse are just that, dependence and abuse, and are unacceptable in ANY situation or locale.

I challenge all of us in the community to ask one other the same single question I mentioned earlier, “How many times in the past year have you used an illegal drug or used a prescription medication for nonmedical reasons?”  If the answer is one or more times, there’s a possiblity a problem may exist for you, your friend or your loved one.  If so, help is available.

A great place to start would be to call The National Institute on Drug Abuse hotline 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-800-662-4357.  If you know of someone selling prescription drugs or someone who has failed rehabilitation, then forced intervention is necessary.  Please contact the Chatham-Savannah Counter Narcotics Team, Officer Ron Tyran, at 912-652-3900, and ask to speak to the Pharmaceutical Diversion Unit.

You may save someone’s life.

Until next month,
Dr. Jerry Williams
The Beach Doc