CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I have worked in the mental health community since 1984. I recall days of yesteryear when I would receive calls from family members concerned about their loved ones mental or emotional state. The conversations usually ended up being about depression, anxieties or stress-related issues affecting day-to-day functioning. Occasionally, the topic turned to behavior or ADHD regarding their children.
I still get those calls, but boy oh boy, have things changed. So many of calls I receive now are about loved ones hooked on drugs. Too many parents are inquiring about treatment for their 20- or 30-something son or daughter. Too many middle-aged sisters are asking, "What can I do for my brother? Drugs are killing him." Too many bosses are calling me to talk about their employees who are "drugged" while on the job.
It is an epidemic that reaches all across America. But my beloved home state of West Virginia seems to be getting hit especially hard. At a press conference in early October, Kanawha County Sheriff Mike Rutherford pointed out that prescription painkillers cause more overdoses in West Virginia than any other state. Death as a result of prescription drugs quadrupled statewide from 2001 to 2008.
The Highland Health Center, the detoxification and substance abuse seven-day recovery program of Highland Hospital, has seen a steady increase in patient days and number of admissions. This six-bed unit for adults treated 496 patients in the past 12 months, with a total of 3,138 patient days. However, in the past 12 months, the program consistently turned away 63 patients a month (755 total) due to no bed availability.
Highland has recently requested an additional 10 beds from the state Health Care Authority. The need continues to rise. The drug abuse problem has reached crisis levels. Drugs are debilitating our society. Drugs are tearing the fabric of our families apart. Drugs are costing businesses too much in unproductive presenteeism and absenteeism. Much of the unemployment is due to folks NOT able to pass a drug screen. Really!
I think three things need to be done: Education, tracking and monitoring, and law enforcement.
Although there have been great measures taken to raise awareness about the dangers of using illegal drugs, many people are still not aware that the misuse or abuse of prescription drugs can be as dangerous as the use of illegal drugs, leading to addiction and even death. We lose one of our fellow West Virginians every day due to prescription drug overdose.
Reducing prescription drug abuse requires a combination of federal, state, and local action. All involved need to be informed on how to use available data sets to identify areas on which to concentrate their efforts. National databases need to be installed and operated. It doesn't do much good if some states operate a prescription drug tracking software, if a neighboring state does not.
Too many doctors, clinics and other practitioners are illegally prescribing and/or dispensing prescription controlled substances and other prescription drugs under the banner of medical care, thus operating a so-called "pill mill". These providers and clinics not only endanger the individuals receiving these medications, but also pose serious threats to the communities where they are located. Strict enforcement of the law needs to stop this practice.
The Campaign to End Prescription Drug Abuse is a viable one. I whole-heartedly support their effort.
Strawn is director of marketing and community education at Highland Hospital.