Prescription drug abuse in Maine is a serious problem that requires everyone’s help now.
The pharmacy robbery in Augusta on Nov. 28 marked the 52nd pharmacy robbery of 2012. It is a startling and troubling statistic that is more than double the pharmacy robberies in 2011. It puts an exclamation point on Maine’s prescription drug abuse epidemic.
But the truth is that this is much more than a statistic. It demonstrates that this is a problem that isn’t just impacting the person addicted to prescription drugs; it is increasingly compromising the personal safety and security of pharmacists across the state, along with their customers and neighbors.
For the safety of pharmacists everywhere, it is imperative that we double our efforts now to combat this dangerous public health issue.
The good news is that there are significant efforts in place across the state to address prescription drug abuse. Community substance abuse prevention coalitions, such as Healthy Androscoggin, are collaborating with community partners to implement a variety of strategies to raise awareness, build skills and reduce access and availability.
An example locally is the medicine take-back program which has events scheduled every spring and fall to allow residents to empty their homes of expired and unwanted medicines. It is a popular, and growing, program that is utilized by over a thousand area households every year.
Efforts are underway to enhance the success of this program by installing prescription drug drop-off boxes in Androscoggin County. That will allow residents to dispose of unwanted medicines year round. The first box in the county has already been installed in Lisbon for Lisbon residents.
Another important new initiative being undertaken by Healthy Androscoggin is to work to increase enrollment and active utilization of Maine’s Prescription Monitoring Program.
This is a program that provides prescribers with information on their patient’s prescriptions to help them spot potential doctor shopping, addiction and drug diversion issues. It is a very effective tool in the effort to prevent and reduce addiction, when it is being used.
While the state has made great progress in increasing enrollment in the PMP, it is still not where it needs to be for maximum effectiveness. Thanks to funding from the state, Healthy Androscoggin can now offer free educational and enrollment sessions for practices in Androscoggin County that aren’t signed up for the PMP.
Call us today if you aren’t enrolled and we will set up a time to get you trained.
A significant effort that has been happening on the state level is the work of the attorney general’s Prescription Drug Task Force. It is a task force created by executive order in February 2012. It has been led since then by Attorney General William J. Schneider.
The task force consists of 17 experienced professionals from across the state from various fields and sectors. It consists of four sub-committees, each charged with developing a plan to address a certain aspect of the prescription drug abuse problem.
Those strategies are: developing long term controlled substance disposal solutions; creating an evidence-based educational campaign; increasing effective utilization of the Prescription Monitoring Program; and implementing a diversion alert program.
Significant progress has been made to date and the task force has provided needed leadership, leadership that we hope to continue to see as the new attorney general comes into office.
The role of coalitions and state government in this effort is critical; however, the role of the individual citizen is just as important.
Each of us can have a great impact on preventing and reducing prescription drug abuse by taking one very simple step at home. That is to keep all medicines in one safe and secure location in the home.
The reality is that many who end up abusing prescription drugs will start with medicines easily obtainable from a friend or family member, often by taking them without permission. If we can all do a better job of keeping our medicines secure, we can take a huge step in preventing this public health issue.
To find out other ways members of the public can help, visit Healthy Androscoggin’s website at: www.healthyandroscoggin.org.
We all need to be working together to fight this battle and to make sure Maine is a safe and healthy place for everyone to work and live.
Scott M. Gagnon, MPP, is the substance abuse prevention manager for Healthy Androscoggin and facilitator of Androscoggin County’s substance abuse prevention task force, Project Unite!