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August 26, 2013

State launches prescription drug abuse awareness campaign

Attorney general visits Clark County to promote Internet resource

JEFFERSONVILLE — Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller made a stop in Jeffersonville Monday during his statewide tour to promote a new website and public awareness campaign designed to combat prescription drug abuse.

The website, bitterpill.IN.gov, offers an array of resources for those abusing medication, and for those who want to help a loved one overcome abuse.

On the website, visitors can learn about the consequences of abusing medication, the signs and symptoms of abuse, treatment options and how to properly report an abuser and, possibly, the practitioner irresponsibly prescribing the medication.

“The purpose of the website is really a one-stop shop for all the questions people have about, what is now termed by the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] as an epidemic in the United States, which is prescription drug abuse,” Zoeller said at a news conference at the Clark County Government Building. He added that “huge numbers” of Hoosiers are addicted to pain killers and other prescription medications.

Zoeller said some people have become addicted to the medications accidentally and while under the care of a physician, but much of the abuse comes from the “redirection” of prescription medications, such as someone taking the medications from a friend or family member’s medicine cabinet.

The website is the most recent step of the Prescription Drug Abuse Task Force, which the Office of the Indiana Attorney General helped create last year.

Zoeller said mitigating prescription drug abuse is a complex issue and will require a teamwork approach among doctors, lawmakers, health care agencies and others.

In addition to the website, the awareness campaign includes a series of online, print, television and radio announcements across the state.

Zoeller made his announcement surrounded by other state officials, including state Sen. Ron Grooms, R-Jeffersonville, and state Rep. Steve Davisson, R-Salem, each of whom are also pharmacists.

“As a pharmacist and a state senator, I know, firsthand, some of the dangers and some of the problems we have with prescription drug abuse, and many of the problems that go with the addiction,” Grooms said.

Grooms said he welcomes the website because it offers education in the wake of related legislation, and that not all laws are followed with educational resources for the public.

“The website allows us to drive home the importance of safe drug usage and the dangers of overuse and over-prescribing,” he said.

Davisson has also directly dealt with patients that abuse medications.

“I have faced this in my practice,” he said. “I have seen the folks that have this problem, and it is a very horrific problem across the state and something we have to address.”

Davisson said reducing the number of people abusing prescription drugs will require participation from the entire community, from loved ones of the abusers  to state leaders.

“Everybody is going to have to come together and do their part,” he said.

Kevin Burke, Clark County’s health officer, echoed the elected officials’ comments.

“This is a scourge on Indiana and the nation, and I argue that every Hoosier has a responsibility related to the issue,” said Burke, a longtime physician, about prescription medication abuse. “I feel the attorney general and state and local police departments need to be even more aggressive in their investigation and prosecution of drug dealers, drug users and unscrupulous providers.”

Burke said he supports efforts that would require doctors and their patients to enter into a contract, random drug tests to be performed to identify if the patient has a history of drug abuse and doctors accessing state databases to ensure their patients are not being prescribed controlled substances by other practitioners without their knowledge.

Burke said doctors are one source of the current state of abuse, but added that other drugs that can be abused are prescribed by chiropractors, dentists, veterinarians, podiatrists, physician assistants and nurse practitioners.

He said anticipated oversight from the state stands to benefit the public, as long as it does not deter practitioners from helping their patients in need of the medications.

“These guidelines that are coming through the licensing boards with the encouragement of legislators are good,” Burke said, “but it is very important that they be practical, and workable, and useful guidelines and that they don’t interfere with the legitimate prescription of controlled substances for patients, such as a cancer patient who has pain and discomfort.”

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Allan Leith, and daughter, Grace, Louisville, head back after reaching the now blocked off end of the Big Four Bridge in Jeffersonville Wednesday afternoon.

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