Monday, January 31, 2011

Skyrocketing prescription drug abuse is subject for examination by Kentucky's two biggest newspapers

The uphill battle against prescription drug abuse across the state was extensively explored in Kentucky's two largest newspapers this weekend.

In their series titled "Prescription for Tragedy," which continues today, The Courier-Journal's Laura Ungar and Emily Hagedorn examined the effects of drug addiction in Bell County, which has the highest number of drug-related deaths in the state. Yet, as prescription drug abuse continues to rise statewide, funding to fight addiction has been slashed and treatment can be difficult to get, Hagedorn and Ungar report. (C-J photo illustration)

The Lexington Herald-Leader looks at how some counties are fighting back by drawing up ordinances that ban "pill mills," pain management clinics that "churn out large amounts of prescriptions for pain and anti-anxiety pills," Bill Estep and Dori Hjalmarson report.

The C-J reports 978 Kentuckians died in 2009 from prescription drug overdoses, up from 403 in 2000. For more state- and nation-wide numbers, click here. Bell County is the hardest hit in the state, with about 54 prescription drug-related deaths per 100,000 people. The high death rate is attributed to several factors, including "few good jobs, little for young people to do and easy access to nearby states where prescriptions are easier to get," Ungar and Hagedorn report.

While the problem continues to grow, petty crimes, such as theft, have increased with it. Yet, the funds to fight the abuse have decreased in Bell County. That is the case statewide, with funding cut from the state Office of Drug Control Policy and Operation UNITE, which was formed to fight chronic drug abuse. Moreover, Kentucky's family and juvenile drug courts were eliminated last year to save money.

A few Eastern Kentucky counties are fighting back by passing ordinances that ban certain types of pain clinics from opening or continuing to operate, the Herald-Leader reports. Carter, Greenup, Knott and Morgan counties have already approved their bans. Residents of Johnson and Owsley counties are asking for more regulation.

To some degree, the bans are put in place to send a message to doctors who are considering opening up shop in these areas. Carter County did not have any pain clinics when its ban was passed, but one businesses later shied away from opening in the county after learning about the law.

After crackdowns on pill mills in Kentucky in the early 2000s, Kentuckians traveled to Florida, which had no prescription-tracking system, to obtain pills and later sell them. In one raid in South Florida, Estep and Hjalmarson report authorities found more than 1,000 files from patients who lived in Eastern Kentucky.
And pain management clinics still flourish within the state as well. One Johnson County pain management clinic (right) "was so busy Friday — payday — that sheriff's deputies parked outside to spot traffic violations," Estep and Hjalmarson report.

This year, state Sen. Jimmy Higdon, R-Lebanon, has introduced Senate Bill 47, which would more strictly regulate the operation of pain clinics. (Read more)

To read more about The Courier Journal's series "A Prescription for Tragedy," view the following links:

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