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The Franklin County Prevention Coalition has been charged with combating the area’s prescription drug abuse problem, and it recently held its second annual medical forum to continue escalating that effort.
The coalition, in collaboration with local, state and federal partners, has placed its focus on education and prevention, and that approach was highlighted during the forum, held June 12 at the Winchester Church of Christ.
This year’s speaker line-up was comprised of local and state law enforcement officials, medical professionals and a state senator — Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma.
Speakers addressed a full house of medical and law enforcement professionals. Topics discussed include prescription drug abuse, Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome and the stop meth now initiative.
Bowling discussed the Pain Act of 2001 and efforts to repeal the legislation that many feel has led to prescription drug abuse, especially involving drugs like OxyContin.
She spoke briefly about her personal experience with OxyContin saying she was prescribed the medication following a shoulder injury resulting from a fall at her home.
Bowling explained that she took herself off the medication preferring pain to the way the medication made her feel, she said when she told her doctor she stopped taking it he said, “good, because those aren’t really good for you.”
She said that the Pain Act is one of the reasons she and many others were prescribed addictive pain medication and that she expects to see the act repealed in 2015.
“The repeal of the Pain Act was killed in Senate this year, but we will be back before Senate in January to try again,” she said.
Medical and law enforcement officials say that prescription drug abuse has reached epidemic proportions with about 1 million emergency department visits attributed to prescription drug abuse in 2009 alone.
In the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, it was estimated that 2.4 million individuals in the United States used prescription drugs non-medically for the first time.
Winchester Police Chief Dennis Young said that Franklin County saw 16 overdose deaths last year, and that problem is growing.
“There are so many unnecessary deaths, it is extremely important that we get in front of this before it escalates more,” Young said. “Prescription overdoses have taken over as the leading killer of citizens nationally, we are very troubled by this trend.”
The medical forum is just one of several efforts being lead by concerned officials to address this issue and others that threaten the safety of their communities.
Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome is one of those issues and can be a direct result of prescription abuse. The syndrome is a condition in which a baby has withdrawal symptoms after being exposed to certain substances.
Many times, the baby is exposed when the mother uses substances such as medications or illicit drugs during pregnancy. After the baby is born, and separated from the mother’s body, the baby goes through withdrawal because he or she is no longer receiving those substances.
This unfortunate side effect of prescription drug abuse has become a major problem in the United States —Tennessee in particular.
In just the last decade there has been a four-fold increase in Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome nationally.
In comparison, Tennessee has seen an alarming ten-fold rise in the incidence of babies born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome. This is a costly trend for the state because infants with the syndrome stay in the hospital longer than other babies and they may have serious medical and social problems.
The production of meth is another issue that affects the area’s most vulnerable citizens and is costing the state millions each year.
Young addressed the issue during his presentation at the medical forum. He discussed how the meth epidemic is affecting area communities and what can be done about it.
“Since 2007 over $100 million has been spent on foster care for meth lab kids in this state, that doesn’t include other foster children, only those that come from meth homes,” he said.
Young talked about the children who suffer due to the continued proliferation of meth in the state.
“About 300 children are rescued from meth homes annually in Tennessee,” he said. “Because of exposure to the chemicals used in the production of the drug in their homes, about 35 percent of those rescued will test positive for meth,”
Estimates show that only about one out of 30 meth labs are found leaving about 9,000 children alone to fend for themselves in meth homes each year.
Young said that current restrictions on the purchase of over-the-counter drugs containing pseudoephedrine, the main component used in the production of meth, are not strong enough.
“We need to mobilize the state,” he said. “We need support from every sector, to strengthen and educate legislature, promote policy change, and build strong partnerships with medical and pharmaceutical industries across the state.”
The “Stop Meth Now” initiative that started in Franklin County has had a positive impact in communities where city ordinances were implemented restricting the sale of pseudoephedrine-containing drugs.
Since the ordinance went into effect the county has seen a drastic decrease in meth production, a decrease in its crime rate, and the elimination of “smurfing”
In relation to meth, smurfing is a term that is used to describe a person or group of people that go from one store to another to gain enough pseudoephedrine to make meth. Meth-makers pay these individuals well to travel from one store to another, often crossing state lines, to purchases these products.
“These ordinances essentially wiped out the criminal enterprise of “smurfing” in our county,” Young said. “We have also seen a 70 percent decrease in the production of meth, and a 14 percent decrease in the overall crime rate.”
The 17 Tennessee cities that also adopted resolutions making pseudoephedrine, available by prescription only, saw similar results. In comparison, the remainder of the state showed only a 23 percent decrease in the production of meth.
Local and state officials are now looking to the pharmaceutical industry and pharmacists to do their part in wiping out meth by making tamper resistant products and selling only tamper resistant products without a prescription.
Some pharmaceutical companies are already working on tamper-resistant products that add a blocking agent that prevents the use of those pseudoephedrine products in the production of meth.
Nexafed, a tamper-resistant dosage form of the nasal decongestant pseudoephedrine, has been shown to be chemically similar to Sudafed brand of the same nasal decongestant.
The advantage of Nexafed over other formulations of pseudoephedrine is the use of Acura’s proprietary IMPEDE technology that prevents extraction of the drug for illicit synthesis of methamphetamine.
Investigators demonstrated in a recent study that Nexafed brand of pseudoephedrine is the bioequivalent to Sudafed, meaning that the drug is absorbed into the blood and metabolized to an essentially equal extent in terms of concentration and time after oral dosing.
Local and state officials are encouraging individuals to send letters to their local pharmacies asking them not to sell pseudoephedrine-containing products over the counter unless they have a blocking agent.
A push for prescription only legislation is expected to pick up again with the new session in January, officials were grateful for the progress made this year in legislation, but say it still isn’t enough.
“It’s the first time we even got a bill out of committee for consideration,” Young said. “This is the first time we have been able to get a reduction in the amount of pseudoephedrine that could be purchased without a prescription,”
Officials take this as a sign of progress and hope for more in the future. Young said that several recent polls show that they also have the support of most Americans as well.
“People are tired of meth,” he said. “A Vanderbilt University poll, Middle Tennessee State University Poll, and a recent survey by U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., all show that about 66 percent of people support prescription only legislation.”
In addition to tighter restrictions on the purchase of pseudoephedrine-containing drugs that can be purchased without a prescription, a number of other bills were passed in an effort to combat the meth problem in Tennessee.
The following laws will become effective beginning July 1.
Legislators voted to strengthen penalties against those who manufacture methamphetamine. This measure provides for a mandatory minimum sentence for possession of meth of 30 days in jail and 180 days imprisonment for the manufacturing of meth.
In addition, the legislature passed a new law that adds anyone convicted of a drug felony to the Methamphetamine Registry to prevent them from purchasing pseudoephedrine-containing products. The legislation also extends the time from 7 to 10 years in which offenders would be prohibited from purchasing any pseudoephedrine products while listed on the Drug Registry.
To better track meth arrests and convictions, the General Assembly approved legislation to subdivide methamphetamine from other Schedule II drugs in charging offenders with possession. The bill delineates meth from cocaine, crack and other Schedule II drugs so law enforcement can better track it.
Another bill passed this year requires a person who makes a profit from housing to report to law enforcement when they know that methamphetamines have been manufactured in the home. In an effort to protect the public, the measure prescribes a Class B misdemeanor for property owners or caretakers that do not notify law enforcement within 24 hours of discovering that methamphetamine has been or is being manufactured.
Young received a standing ovation from the crowd following his presentation. Several speakers and attendants of the medical forum thanked the Franklin County Prevention Coalition and local law enforcement agencies for their hard work and dedication to the safety of their community and the state.
Coalition Director Tabatha Curtis said, that the organization was honored to host the forum again this year for medical professionals.
“We can’t thank our guest speakers enough for taking the time out to assist us in providing information and educating our partners on current issues facing our county and state,” she said. “We especially would like to thank the Winchester Church of Christ for allowing us to use their beautiful facilities, Reliable Rental our youth coalition and the Winchester Police Department for their continued support.”
The coalition’s goal is to provide the forum each year to medical professionals as well as other existing community sectors, more than 130 people attended this year’s forum from throughout the region.