Recently, I attended the National Prescription Drug Abuse Conference and although I thought I knew a lot about the issue, I was still startled at some of the information presented. The issue of prescription drug abuse and misuse has been a problem of great concern for the past decade in our country.  In all honesty, the abuse and misuse of prescription drugs was a problem for much longer and only recently started being noticed by the mainstream media and public.  
A common phrase that’s been coined is, “when the prescription becomes the problem” which refers to the injuries and deaths attributed to an overdose on prescription drugs.  Most of the overdose deaths in this country result from prescription painkillers called opioids.  All lot of people know them by their actual names such as; Hydrocodone, Oxycodone, and Methadone.  
When used as prescribed on a limited basis for an injury or other severe health condition (surgery, cancer, etc.), prescription painkillers are can be beneficial for many.  Certain factors tend to increase the risk of addiction and abuse, such as extended usage of the drugs and a past history of dependency, but there are cases of first time users becoming addicted due to their powerful nature.  
Although it seems like a no brainer, taking too many prescription painkillers can stop a person’s breathing-leading to death.  When you look at the fact that every single day, 44 people in United States die from an overdose of painkillers and many more become addicted it’s a sobering thought.  Once a person becomes addicted, it can be extremely hard to stop due to the hold it takes over their lives.  
It’s estimated that in 2013 alone, nearly two million people in the U.S. abused or misused prescription painkillers.  Each and every day, there are almost 7,000 people who are treated in emergency rooms for using painkillers in a manner that wasn’t prescribed or intended.  
Another scary fact, and please let it sink in, is the U.S. accounts for 99% of the worldwide consumption of Hydrocodone yet has less than 5% of the global population. In 2002, there were only 8,000,000 Oxycodone pills dispensed in the U.S., but when you fast forward to 2011 the number of pills had jumped to 781,000,000.  From 1999 to 2013, the amount of prescription painkillers dispensed in the U.S. nearly quadrupled, yet there wasn’t an overall change in the amount of pain that patients were reporting.    
I don’t share these facts to simply scare you, but more importantly to make you aware of this problem and to make you pause to do a self-check of yourself and loved ones around you.  It’s a sobering fact that when children and teenagers are polled about where they’re learning about drug education now they often cite the internet and peers.  I don’t have to tell you how dangerous that can be, because it has proven to lower the perception of harm of all drugs in recent surveys, ranging from prescription drugs to marijuana.  
Another big issue that was expressed in the surveys was the “do as I say, not as I do” mentality that is sometimes portrayed to children.  Parents, especially of young children, are one of the biggest influences in their lives and they often mimic their behavior later in life.  
The past few years haven’t exactly been all doom and gloom in regards to prescription drug abuse though.  In a lot of localities, law enforcement has been collaborating with prescribers (doctors), dispensers (pharmacists), and local civic groups to find way to combat this epidemic in communities across the country.  There has been a realization that you can’t arrest your way out of the problem and you have to include other stakeholders to make an impact.  
Through the hosting of drug take back events, the institution of Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMP), public education through classes and social media, and education for doctors  about overprescribing, the rates of painkillers being prescribed has leveled off since 2010 and there was actually a small decline in related deaths in 2012 for the first time in decades.  
There is still a lot of work to be done regarding prescription drug abuse and misuse, which is one reason we still host the drug take back days every spring and fall.  They don’t only serve as a reminder to clean out your medicine cabinet, but they remind you to at least think about the consequences of allowing old medicine to sit there and potentially fall into the wrong hands.  
Arkansas recently revised the PDMP law, with assistance from Chief Lane and the Benton Police Department, and it allows certain law enforcement investigators access to the prescription drug monitoring program to enhance investigative capability. The PDMP has been extremely helpful in diverting medicine out of the hands of those that would attempt to “doctor shop” and work the system to obtain countless prescriptions for painkillers. It was discovered there was a missing link in the PDMP with law enforcement not being able to obtain vital information needed to charge and arrest those involved in prescription fraud operations, and this effectively closes that loophole.  
Curbing the prescription drug problem has had another unforeseen effect; the rise of heroin use and overdose deaths in the U.S.  Intel suggests that heroin use in Arkansas is starting to increase some, although not at the rate that other states are seeing such as Colorado.  Just from 2012 to 2013, there was a 39% increase in the number of people being treated for heroin addiction in the U.S., and there was a five-fold increase in the total number of deaths related to overdoses from 2001-2013.  
This is one reason that law enforcement agencies across the country are starting to train their officers how to carry and use Naloxone, which reverses/blocks the effects of opioids including heroin.  This is something that our officers will be instructed on in the near future as a way to further save lives from this horrible problem.  
I give all of these statistics and say all of this to make one primary point; please talk to your children about the dangers of drug usage, because education is the key to helping us make a difference in our community. We can further reduce the lives this problem destroys by simply educating those around us and by taking time to secure and dispose of old medications.  
To date, there has been 62 tons of old medication taken back in Arkansas (3.5 tons in Saline County alone) and disposed of in an environmentally sound manner.  Be sure to help us continue to make a difference by taking time to come out to the upcoming prescription drug take back being held on April 25th, 10AM-2PM at Ferguson’s Furniture.  Together, we can make help make Benton, “My Safer City.”  Stay Safe Out There.    
Stay Safe,
Lt. Kevin Russell