‘Prescription for Addiction’ discussed at 7th PDAC meeting

Federal narcotics investigator Jeremiah Daley spoke about the dangers of prescription drug abuse.

Jeremi­ah Da­ley over­sees a mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar nar­cot­ics en­force­ment agency that re­ports dir­ectly to the White House. Yet, il­li­cit sub­stances like heroin, co­caine and marijuana aren’t atop his agenda when he speaks to com­munity groups like the 7th Po­lice Dis­trict Ad­vis­ory Coun­cil.

Da­ley wants to talk about the in­si­di­ous threat posed by pre­scrip­tion med­ic­a­tions. His “Pre­scrip­tion for Ad­dic­tion” present­a­tion shared many alarm­ing facts dur­ing the 7th PDAC’s monthly meet­ing on April 17 at Amer­ic­an Her­it­age Fed­er­al Cred­it Uni­on.

For ex­ample, after al­co­hol and marijuana, pre­scrip­tion med­ic­a­tions are the most-ab­used cat­egory of drugs in the coun­try, said Da­ley, a former Phil­adelphia po­lice in­spect­or who has spent the last dec­ade as ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the Phil­adelphia-Cam­den High In­tens­ity Drug Traf­fick­ing Area branch of the pres­id­ent’s Of­fice of Na­tion­al Drug Con­trol Policy. In short, Da­ley works for the na­tion’s “Drug Czar.”

Fur­ther, the United States leads the world in pre­scrip­tion drug con­sump­tion, in­clud­ing 80 per­cent of the paink­iller meds man­u­fac­tured world­wide. Sales of pre­scrip­tion paink­illers have in­creased by 300 per­cent since 1999. Pre­scrip­tion over­dose-re­lated deaths also have tripled since 1999.

“This is a big is­sue from a busi­ness eth­ics stand­point,” Da­ley said. “The phar­ma­ceut­ic­al com­pan­ies bear a big part of the re­spons­ib­il­ity for this be­cause they are mak­ing a tre­mend­ous amount of money from it.”

About 2.7 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans use pre­scrip­tion drugs “non­ther­a­peut­ic­ally,” Da­ley said, mean­ing that those folks aren’t us­ing them as part of a med­ic­al treat­ment pro­gram. The most-ab­used med­ic­a­tions in­clude paink­illers (some de­rived from the opi­um plant and oth­ers syn­thet­ic), stim­u­lants usu­ally pre­scribed to treat con­di­tions such as AD­HD and de­press­ants (of­ten called tran­quil­izers). Some over-the-counter meds are ab­used of­ten, too, not­ably cough and cold medi­cines.

Stat­ist­ic­ally, the 12 to 25 age group has the highest rate of ini­ti­at­ing pre­scrip­tion drug ab­use. Girls ages 12 to 17 have the highest rate among fe­males, while young men ages 18 to 25 are highest among males. Ab­use spans all eth­ni­cit­ies and so­cio-eco­nom­ic groups, however.

Ac­cord­ing to Da­ley, 38,000 Amer­ic­ans die an­nu­ally from over­doses, which is more than traffic ac­ci­dents or gun­fire. Al­most 60 per­cent of those deaths are pre­scrip­tion drug-re­lated. Three out of four pre­scrip­tion drug over­dose deaths in­volve paink­illers. More people die from pre­scrip­tion drug over­doses than from heroin and co­caine over­doses com­bined.

From a pre­ven­tion stand­point, the Of­fice of Na­tion­al Drug Con­trol Policy is try­ing to at­tack the source, Da­ley said. When asked where they get pre­scrip­tion drugs, young ab­users of­ten say they are avail­able in their own homes. Ab­users of­ten take the med­ic­a­tions that their par­ents or grand­par­ents store in their medi­cine cab­in­ets. Also, a lot of young people get the meds from their class­mates at school, Da­ley said.

Mean­while, some un­scru­pu­lous doc­tors, phar­macists, pa­tients and drug deal­ers have turned pre­scrip­tion med dis­tri­bu­tion in­to a busi­ness. Nar­cot­ics in­vest­ig­at­ors at the loc­al, state and fed­er­al levels have been work­ing to­geth­er to take down these “pill mills.” Typ­ic­ally, “ringlead­er” deal­ers will re­cruit bogus pa­tients who will go from doc­tor to doc­tor, com­plain­ing about pain just to get pre­scrip­tions. The pa­tients then take the pa­per scripts to a phar­macy to get the pills, then they de­liv­er the pills to the deal­ers in ex­change for cash. Some­times, the doc­tors and phar­macists know what’s go­ing on and get cuts of the pro­ceeds.

Pre­scrip­tion drug ab­use be­gets oth­er crimes in the com­munity, too, as ad­dicts com­mit rob­ber­ies, burg­lar­ies, thefts and pros­ti­tu­tion to fin­ance their habits. Fin­an­cial crimes such as em­bez­zle­ment and iden­tity theft may also be linked to un­der­ly­ing drug ab­use. Ab­users can choose a dif­fer­ent route when the cost of their habit starts grow­ing. Many move to cheap­er drugs. Opi­ate paink­illers are more ex­pens­ive than heroin, but they give ab­users sim­il­ar highs. So many ab­users get their first taste through pre­scrip­tion meds, then move to heroin.

“It’s not much of a leap. It’s the same phys­ic­al ef­fect on the body,” Da­ley said. “It’s cheap­er to buy heroin. It’s cheap­er to buy a bag than to go to the movies. The opi­ate ad­dict is real­iz­ing that.”

Ac­cord­ing to Da­ley, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has ad­op­ted a four-point strategy to rein in pre­scrip­tion drug ab­use. The edu­ca­tion com­pon­ent seeks to teach youths, par­ents and health­care pro­viders about the dangers of ab­use and lax con­trol over med­ic­a­tion in­vent­ory. The mon­it­or­ing com­pon­ent in­volves cre­at­ing a na­tion­al pre­scrip­tion data­base that net­works across all phar­ma­cies.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion is fur­ther try­ing to pro­mote prop­er dis­pos­al of un­used med­ic­a­tions by con­duct­ing many drop-off events at gov­ern­ment build­ings. Loc­ally, three North­east fire­houses had drop-off events on April 26. Un­used meds should not be flushed down a toi­let be­cause they can con­tam­in­ate the wa­ter sup­ply. The fourth com­pon­ent is en­force­ment, in­clud­ing in­vest­ig­a­tions and reg­u­lat­ory com­pli­ance with ap­plic­able laws. ••

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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