Prescription Drug Abuse Cuts Close to Home

Prescription Drug Abuse Cuts Close to Home

03.05.12 | By

It's a startling moment, when what seems like a distant problem hits close to home. In a one-stoplight town in Eastern Kentucky, my neighbor's alarming descriptions of prescription drug abuse were as distantly vague to me as someone attempting to explain what New York City felt like; it just didn't compute. Up until I encountered it firsthand, I'd heard gossip about locals getting addicted to pain pills but it seemed like an apparition, something blown out of proportion in a hairdresser's hyperbole.

Then I saw the captain of my high school sports team being led to jail for armed robbery. Shortly thereafter, the best artist in my hometown - the kid who could draw photorealistic portraits so beautiful it made your eyes peel - went through multiple stints of rehab because he just couldn't stop stealing to fund his addiction to painkillers. Interning for a local District Judge, I was appalled at the sad downward spiral of so many of my classmates whose futures had been ripped short when someone handed them medicine stolen from a grandmother, a friend, a classmate. Today, when I return to my hometown, certain neighborhoods seem a shell of what was once part of a bustling, happy community. There's no denying the problem; prescription drug abuse is on the rise.

Late last week a coworker of mine testified before Congress on the growing rates of prescription drug abuse, and what innovative pharmaceutical manufacturers are doing to help. I'm proud to say that the list of proactive measures our members take to prevent abuse is long and vigorously broad. Policy experts determined early on that protecting the patient throughout the lifecycle of the product is vitally important - as companies research and develop new medicines they're looking for abuse-resistant formulations, they're educating consumers on using medicines appropriately, and they're working with law enforcement to help prevent medicines from being diverted from the regulated supply chain. What's more, we're also talking to state legislatures about policy options like prescription drug monitoring programs, which can prevent doctor-shopping within a state. We're involved on every level of this problem and continue to work with all stakeholders involved - which is vital - to communicate what works and how to share that with other states.

Unfortunately, there is no quick remedy, as is so evident to those involved in preventing prescription drug abuse. It's a steady climb uphill to educate patients about taking their drugs the right way, keeping them safe and disposing of them properly. But we're seeing some progress, and we've got a broad range of stakeholders exploring new policy initiatives and consumer education programs. Hopefully one day soon I'll be able to return to my hometown and the local gossip will return to haircuts and hemlines, rather than the scourge of medicines' misuse and abuse.

Follow Kaelan on Twitter @KaelanAtPhRMA

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