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Prescription drug abuse top public health concern

Morgue File

The number of Michigan deaths from drug overdose has tripled since 1999. The majority of these deaths were caused by prescription drugs.

Michigan has the 18th highest drug overdose mortality rate in the country, according to a national report on Prescription Drug Abuse by the Trust for America's Health (TFAH) in Washington, D.C. 

According to the report, prescription drug related deaths outnumber those from heroine and cocaine combined, and in Michigan, drug overdose deaths outnumber motor-vehicle deaths.

Jeffrey Levi co-authored the report. He is executive director of TFAH and professor at George Washington University.  Commenting on nationwide trends, he said, "sales of prescription painkillers have quadrupled in the past decade. Enough prescription painkillers were prescribed in 2010 to medicate every American adult continually for a month."

Andrea Gielen of Johns Hopkins University said,  "prescription drug abuse, misuse, and overdose is a very real epidemic, and it warrants a strong public health response."

The report makes several key recommendations to help curb prescription drug abuse. They include:

Educate the public to understand the risks of prescription drug use to avoid misuse in the first place; Ensure responsible prescribing practices, including increasing education of healthcare providers and prescribers to better understand how medications can be misused and to identify patients in need of treatment; Increase understanding about safe storage of medication and proper disposal of unused medications, such as through "take back" programs; Make sure patients do receive the pain and other medications they need, and that patients have access to safe and effective drugs; Improve, modernize and fully fund Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs, so they are real-time, interstate and incorporated into Electronic Health Records, to quickly identify patients in need of treatment and connect them with appropriate care and identify doctor shoppers and problem prescribers; Make rescue medications more widely available by increasing access for at-risk individuals to naloxone and provide immunity for individuals and others seeking help; and Expand access to and availability of effective treatment options as a key component of any strategy to combat prescription drug abuse.

The report finds that Michigan has adopted six out of ten suggested strategies. One significant suggestion Michigan could adopt is making an existing prescription drug monitoring program mandatory for doctors. TFAH summarized key Michigan findings from the report.

--Virginia Gordan, Michigan Radio Newsroom