Health Care Workers Try to Lower Prescription Drug Overdoses

By: Karen Campbell Email
By: Karen Campbell Email

More people die from overdosing on prescription painkillers than from heroin and cocaine overdoses combined.

That's according to a new study by the Centers for Disease Control.

Prescription overdoses have tripled in the past decade, and it is now responsible for 40 deaths every day in the U.S.

It's a problem health care workers in the Valley are trying to fix.

Valerie Mongold is a pharmacist at Peakside Pharmacy Care Center in Harrisonburg.

"It has been an increase in pain medications we dispense on a regular basis."

She's good at what she does, especially catching a customer who tries to misuse a prescription to get medication.

"...we can pull up a report and we get online instant access to where they have been within the time period we request," said Mongold.

She and other health professionals can do this through what's called a Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, an electronic database to help track the use and improper use of prescription meds.

"It will show the pharmacy, the doctors, how many and what medication they got, and then we can make an assessment that would be bad for their health. We refuse to fill it," said Mongold.

One in 20 Americans have misused prescription drugs like Vicodin or Oxycontin. According to the CDC's report, there was enough pain killers given out last year to medicate every adult in America, for every four hours, for an entire month.

Doctor Victor Lee, a pain management physician at Augusta Health, says that statistic is concerning but not surprising.

He says in the late 1980s and early 1990s, doctors were educated on how to prescribe medications, but not how to monitor the use.

"Many physicians took the stance that patients were unfairly being denied access to pain medication by doctors who were afraid to prescribe pain medication," said Lee.

Since the 1990s, Lee says there has been a rise in prescription pain medications, and a rise in it's availability on the streets.

Health care professionals are working on other ways to reduce that trend.

Lee says he tries to treat pain in other ways.

"... by non-narcotic means, by injections, nerve block therapy, often the use of pain medications is kind of a last resort," said Lee.

Doctor Lee says the health community is working on putting guidelines in place that will make the prescribing of pain medication a safer experience for patients and physicians.

Mongold says extra medication laying around a home is another issue.

"You think about all the leftover drugs from surgery that get stuck in medicine cabinets, and then the teenagers or young adults will use that and abuse that," said Mongold.


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