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Program combating Rx drug abuse wins regional honor

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Program combating Rx drug abuse wins regional honor

When someone seeks prescription painkillers from physicians and pharmacies in Yavapai County, a database shows when that person last received the drugs.

The Prescription Drug Monitoring Program is a pilot for an initiative Arizona officials intend to take statewide to combat prescription drug abuse.

Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk said the system, fed by weekly updates from physicians and pharmacies, guards against those who doctor-shop to get multiple prescriptions for narcotics or forge prescriptions.

“It gives communities a great tool,” she said.

That effort is part of Arizona’s Prescription Drug Misuse and Abuse Initiative, which was recently honored by the National Criminal Justice Association. Cabell Cropper, the group’s executive director, said the award considers how well states make use of federal funding for its effort and whether efforts achieve results.

In a news release, Gov. Jan Brewer called the award a testament to the good that can be done when state agencies, local governments and citizens work together.

“I am proud of the work Arizona has done to curb this silent but serious epidemic,” she said. “The staggering consequences of prescription drug misuse and abuse – whether addiction, fatality, crime or rising health care costs – are devastating to Arizona families and communities.”

The Arizona Criminal Justice Commission and the Governor’s Office for Children, Youth and Families developed the program in partnership with agencies and groups including the Arizona Department of Health Services, Arizona State Board of Pharmacy and DrugFreeAZ.

Phillip Stevenson, director of the Arizona Statistical Analysis Center, said the impetus for the initiative began between 2006-2008, when data suggested a rise in use of prescription drugs among those in junior high and high school.

The program also is at work in Pinal, Graham and Greenlee counties, though to date the monitoring program has only operated in Yavapai. The overall goals include reducing the illicit use of prescription drugs, educating physicians and pharmacists about best practices, aiding law enforcement and raising awareness of the dangers among adults and children.

According to Brewer’s office, the program’s successes include collecting more than 5,000 pounds of unused prescription medication since June 2012.

The Arizona State Board of Pharmacy reported that last year the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program decreased amount of opiate pills dispensed in Yavapai County by 5 percent.

Polk said that Yavapai County was selected to be the first test area because many prevention strategies that Yavapai County Substance Abuse Coalition had created to combat prescription drug abuse were already in place. At last report, 231 doctors and 85 pharmacists had enrolled in the state’s monitoring program.

Sheila Sjolander, assistant director, public health services, for the Arizona Department of Health Services
said combating prescription drug abuse is important because it leads to abuse of other substances and has become a leading cause of accidental death.

“It’s a serious addiction that we need to pay attention to,” she said.

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