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Drug czar: Curbing prescription abuse takes local effort
Florida's cases are above the national average.
By CHRIS TISCH, Times Staff Writer
Published December 4, 2007
At a Tampa treatment center, drug czar John Walters, left, listed ways to curb the problem of abuse.
TAMPA - Florida's surging prescription drug abuse problem brought the nation's drug czar to a treatment center Monday, where he outlined the numbers on those abusing prescription pills.
"This is a state that has been hard hit by prescription drug abuse," drug czar John Walters said at a news conference at the Drug Abuse Comprehensive Coordinating Office in Tampa. "It is above the national average."
Walters said studies show one in eight young adults in Florida abuses prescription drugs, including painkillers like OxyContin and antianxiety drugs like Xanax.
Studies show about half of the young people who abuse prescription drugs don't believe they are as dangerous as cocaine or heroin, even though the number of fatal prescription drug overdoses now nearly triples lethal drug overdoses of illicit drugs.
"Prescription pharmaceuticals are as dangerous and in some cases more dangerous than the drugs they usually think about when they think about the drug problem," Walters said.
John Gibson, a patient at the treatment center, said he started using painkillers about eight years ago after he was injured at work and in an all-terrain vehicle accident.
The pills gave him a euphoria that got him hooked, said Gibson, 30. Soon, he needed more, even after his pain subsided.
"It's spreading fast, fierce and has no mercy on those that dabble with it," Gibson said of prescription drug abuse.
He said he bought the drugs from a cousin whose doctor was prescribing him hundreds of pills a month. Gibson was eventually arrested and admitted to the treatment center. He said his cousin fatally overdosed on Dilaudid and cocaine about a month ago.
Walters said the problem can be curbed in several ways:
-Focusing more drug prevention education on prescription abuse, including informing adults about the dangers of keeping old medications in medicine cabinets, a common place kids get them from.
-Getting more states to install prescription monitoring systems allowing doctors and pharmacists to check online if a patient is a doctor shopper. Now, 33 states have such systems, but efforts to get one in Florida have failed.
-Encouraging doctors to screen patients for potential substance abuse problems before prescribing them high doses of pills.
Walters also noted that treatment centers like DACCO are vital in fighting drug abuse. Officials at the Tampa treatment center reported a 35 percent increase in admissions for prescription drug abuse over last year.
"The national effort depends on what is happening in individual communities," Walters said.