Prescription Painkiller Abuse Takes Hold in Western States

Prescription painkiller abuse, which has centered on Eastern and Southern states, is now taking hold in Western states, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Law enforcement and public health authorities in these states have been caught unprepared, the article notes. They are evaluating the problem, and starting to develop policies to counter it. They have long battled methamphetamine abuse in their states.

Oregon, Colorado, Washington and Idaho have the country’s highest prescription drug abuse rates, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). In a survey, SAMHSA found 6.5 percent of Oregon residents ages 12 and older abuse opioid painkillers, compared with 4.5 percent in Kentucky.

In 2007, Southern and Appalachian states topped SAMHSA’s list for prescription painkiller abuse. In those states, public education campaigns on the safe disposal of the drugs have reduced the number of pills stolen from medicine cabinets. State laws have helped decrease the supply of pills on the black market.

In West Virginia, officials organized more than 100 community forums about painkiller abuse, and helped develop local solutions. The prescription opioid abuse rate is now 4.8 percent, compared with 5.9 percent two years ago.

After Florida took steps to reduce prescription drug abuse, the state reported last fall the number of prescription drug-related deaths decreased in 2011. Deaths related to oxycodone decreased more than 17 percent.

The growth of prescription drug abuse in Western states has been fueled by drug-trafficking rings. People addicted to the drugs, and drug dealers, obtain large amounts of oxycodone or hydrocodone from physicians in Southern California or Nevada, which have “pill mills.” They then transport the pills to nearby states.

Arizona, which ranked sixth in the SAMHSA survey, does not have a unified plan to tackle prescription drug abuse, according to the newspaper. Colorado’s state drug task force is still focused on methamphetamine, although hospital admissions due to opioids increased to 7 percent of all visits last year.

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