[Noozhawk’s note: This article is part of Day 10 in Noozhawk’s 12-day, six-week special investigative series, Prescription for Abuse. Related links are below.]
Local addiction experts, health-care practitioners and law enforcement officials have known for years that prescription drug abuse is a problem in Santa Barbara County and have taken action. But the entire community can help by knowing the signs of abuse and the available resources for prevention, intervention and treatment.
Nationally, the number of patients treated in emergency rooms for prescription drug overdoses doubled between 2004 and 2008, to 305,885, and death rates have risen astronomically since the late 1990s.
In Santa Barbara County, there were 111 drug- and alcohol-related deaths in 2009, the most recent year of complete data, and county Coroner’s Office records show the presence of prescription medications in many of those cases. Most of the deaths aren’t from toddlers accidentally ingesting a pill or elderly people mixing up their medications, either; they’re teens or adults who intentionally or accidentally abuse multiple drugs.
People are known to develop abuse patterns and dependence through legitimate or recreational use and often don’t have any trouble getting access to the drugs they crave. In fact, the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use & Health noted that more than 70 percent of people who abused prescription painkillers reported getting them from friends or relatives, which is why proper and timely disposal of drugs is an effective way everyone can help cut down on abuse.
In 2009, the Sheriff’s Department launched Operation Medicine Cabinet with the county Public Works Department’s Resource Recovery and Waste Management Division to address four problem areas: youth abuse, accidental child ingestion, improper or accidental use by adults, and pollution of water supplies.
Residents can drop off unused, expired or unwanted medications at any of the nine sheriff’s substations throughout the county, for free. The program receives about one ton of prescription drugs every three months, and the drugs are later incinerated. Hazardous waste collection centers cannot take controlled substances, which many medications are, but the Operation Medicine Cabinet drop-off boxes are located here:
» Carpinteria: 5775 Carpinteria Ave. (in the lobby)
» Santa Barbara: 4434 Calle Real
» Goleta: 7042 Marketplace Drive in Camino Real Marketplace
» Isla Vista: 6504 Trigo Road
» Lompoc: 3500 Harris Grade Road
» Buellton: 140 W. Highway 246
» Solvang: 1745 Mission Drive
» Santa Maria: 812-A W. Foster Road
» New Cuyama: 215 Newsome St.
Federal drug disposal guidelines have changed over the past few years and different disposal methods are recommended for different drugs, but any kind of medication can be deposited in the drop-off boxes.
Current Food and Drug Administration guidelines ask that most drugs be thrown away in sealed bags together with some “unpalatable” material like kitty litter or used coffee grounds. Some drugs — mostly strong painkillers like Opana, OxyContin and Percocet — should be flushed because they can be harmful or fatal in just a single dose if used by someone other than the prescribed patient, according to the FDA.
Click here for additional information on how to properly dispose of medications.
Another option is Walgreens’ Safe Medication Disposal Program, in which customers can purchase an envelope at a Walgreens pharmacy to mail prescription or over-the-counter drugs to an incinerator facility to be destroyed. Law enforcement officials make sure no envelope is tampered with or opened before being incinerated, authorities say.
Experts in the field warn that many people who abuse prescription medications consider the drugs safer since they come from a physician and not some stranger’s garage. Not true, they say.
As Noozhawk’s Prescription for Abuse series reported Monday, there are many treatment options locally and elsewhere for inpatient and outpatient programs. No one program will suit everyone, but there are resources available to help find the appropriate one.
The Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration has an online drug and alcohol abuse treatment facility locator, which details the program services, type of care and method of payment for every facility. Click here for the treatment locator.
Santa Barbara County’s Bringing Our Community Home initiative hosts a similar database, but only for local programs.
Before sitting down to talk to someone about possible substance abuse, make sure to be educated on the individual’s specific abuse, addiction and treatment professionals advise.
National Institute on Drug Abuse offers a number of tips to identify possible signs of substance abuse. Among them: a frequent need to fill prescriptions and change doctors, mood changes, changes in sleeping and eating habits, decreased energy, lowered work ethic or absences from school, impaired coordination, an unexplained need for money or other financial problems, and a sudden change in acquaintances or activities.
“The possibility of becoming an addict is so real now, because of the different levels of potencies and type of drugs and how much more accessible everything is,” said Deputy District Attorney Von Nguyen, who worked for years as a juvenile prosecutor.
“Our kids are in much higher danger of being addicted.”
Adolescents often abuse over-the-counter medications like cold and cough drugs in addition to alcohol, marijuana and prescription drugs.
Young people often change their behavior patterns when they are using — or abusing — drugs or alcohol, Nguyen says. Some signs of possible abuse include becoming more defensive, pulling away from parents, hanging out with a new group of friends, and experiencing a drop in grades, she said.
If you expect your child is using drugs or alcohol, get educated and talk to them, professionals say.
“The Anti-Drug” campaign suggests keeping the following in mind when talking to your child:
» Tell your son or daughter that you love him or her, and you are worried that he or she might be using drugs or alcohol.
» You know that drugs may seem like the thing to do, but doing drugs can have serious consequences.
» It makes you feel worried and concerned about them when they do drugs.
» You are there to listen to them.
» You want them to be a part of the solution.
» You tell him or her what you will do to help them.
» Know that you will have this discussion many, many times. Talking to your child about drugs and alcohol is not a one-time event.