IN AG Greg Zoeller: Prescription drug abuse crisis requires action and collaboration

Press release from Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller:

Attorney General Greg Zoeller: Prescription drug abuse crisis requires action and collaboration
Prescription Drug Symposium brings stakeholders together to share information and address growing problems

(INDIANAPOLIS, December 10, 2010) – More than 300 health professionals, law enforcement officials and government regulators gathered today for the Prescription Drug Symposium at the Indiana Government Center, which was hosted by the Attorney General’s office and the Family and Social Service Administration (FSSA). Those attending the symposium gained a better understanding of prescription drug abuse and addiction issues from an epidemiological and law enforcement perspective and learned how to recognize signs and symptoms of addiction and treatment options for individuals who develop addiction.

Attorney General Greg Zoeller’s opening remarks emphasized the importance of collaboration among all stakeholders in the area of prescription drug addiction.

“Today marks a turning point in the prescription drug abuse crisis in Indiana. Our eyes and ears are wide open to the problem and this is the beginning of a dialogue that will benefit everyone. The status quo is not an option. After today, we will be more informed and more determined to prevent, identify and address the growing problems of the misuse and abuse of prescription drugs,” Zoeller said.

Zoeller extended his appreciation to all symposium speakers including Gina Eckart, Director of FSSA’s Division of Mental Health and Addiction; Dr. Tim Kelly, Medical Director, Fairbanks Hospital; Josh Klatte, Director of Indiana’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program; Deputy Attorney General Tim McClure; Deputy Director for the Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit; Deputy Attorney General Gabrielle Owens, Deputy Director for the Attorney General’s Licensing Enforcement and homeowner Protection Unit; Dr. Randall Stevens, Chair of the Indiana State Medical Association Commission on Physician Assistance; Special Agent Dennis Wichern, United States Drug Enforcement Administration and Dr. Eric Wright, Director, Center for Health Policy, Indiana University-Purdue University.

According to a study prepared by The Center for Health Policy for FSSA, 15.5% of young adults age 18 to 25 in Indiana admitted to abusing prescription drugs within the last year, a significantly higher rate than that of the national average of 12.3%. Research shows that many of these drugs come from the medicine chests of family members and are often are mixed together in dangerous combinations. Teens abuse prescription drugs more than any other kind and of narcotic and second only to alcohol.

In September, the United State Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Attorney General’s office coordinated a statewide drug take back day which allowed people to drop off unused and unwanted drugs at dozens of locations around Indiana. Approximately four tons of prescriptions drugs were collected in one day and properly destroyed by incineration, indicating Hoosiers are in need of a safe, legal and convenient method for disposal. Currently, Indiana law requires a law enforcement official be present at the disposal site.

While annual or semi-annual drug take back events are common in many states, Zoeller sees a need to do more. Earlier this year he signed on to a letter with other state Attorneys General to the United States Senate Committee on Judiciary seeking support for the Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act of 2010. This bill would amend the Controlled Substances Act to allow states and private entities to operate responsible drug take back programs.

“As the consumer protection officer in the state, I am proposing we find a better way that would make it easier for Hoosiers to dispose of unused prescription drugs which would reduce the access teens have to them and reduce the opportunities for abuse,” Zoeller added. “I am working closely with legislators and law enforcement groups to develop a solution and I hope this symposium helps to further those discussions and results in the General Assembly passing a bill to get unused drugs out of medicine cabinets and off the streets.”

Symposium attendees also learned about the enforcement actions state and federal agencies have taken to prevent over-prescribing and diversion – two common causes for prescription drug misuse.

While the presence of controlled substances in family medicine cabinets contributes to the problem of prescription drug abuse, unscrupulous nurses, doctors, dentists and pharmacists who divert medicine intended for legitimate purposes contribute significantly to the problem of prescription drug abuse.

The Attorney General’s office investigates and takes action against the licenses of health professionals who are found to be violating Indiana law. For example, in 2010, the Attorney General’s office filed 137 administrative complaints against nurses, 48 of which involved a drug-related issue such as diversion, over-prescribing, fraudulent prescriptions or drug abuse. Cases involving physicians who over-prescribe or engage in the practice of telemedicine are often investigated both by the Attorney General’s office and the DEA, as many physicians are criminally indicted for improper prescribing.

Zoeller also thanked the Indiana State Nurses Program, the Indiana Association of Anesthesiologists and Ortho NE for their contributions and involvement in the symposium.

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