Editorial by Rep. Dennis Keene – When we think of illegal drug use, many of us think of substances like cocaine, marijuana and heroin.
While those remain major problems, it is another class of drugs – those that can be found in a medicine cabinet – that has driven a dramatic increase in overdose deaths in Kentucky over the last decade.
Between 1999 and 2004 alone, the number of these cases went up more than 160 percent, and the problem has only worsened since then. In the last few years they have begun outpacing the state’s highway fatalities by an ever-increasing margin.
Estimates show that about 6.5 percent of Kentucky adults say they have abused prescription drugs during the last year, which is well above the national average of 5 percent.
And the numbers for tenth grade drug abuse are disturbing with 1.6 percent reporting that they have used Oxycontin in the last 30 days of the recent survey. Kentucky is above the average with 2.4 percent of tenth graders admitting to using tranquilizers.
I am stunned by those numbers. When I was in the tenth grade I was into girls, sports and hanging out with my friends. Never did it cross our minds to look for prescription drugs in our parents’ medicine chests or purchase them off the streets.
Prescription drugs as Xanax, Valium, Oxycodone and Hydrocodone were detected in the blood of about two-thirds of the overdose victims the state medical examiner’s office investigated last year. Combined, alcohol and cocaine were detected in just eight percent of the cases.
A few weeks ago, as chair of the Interim Joint Committee on Licensing and Occupations, I asked officials with the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy and the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to talk to us about prescription drug abuse.
They explained that eKASPER, an electronic monitoring system that was the first in the nation to give doctors, pharmacies and law enforcement access to prescription information online, has helped speed up cases against those who over-prescribe or doctor shop, but it also makes it possible to pinpoint where problem areas exist.
State officials who maintain eKASPER are beginning to work more closely with the medical licensure boards to better monitor the data and sift out over-prescribers from those truly helping those patients in need.
But we need to do more.
Just last month, House Speaker Greg Stumbo, Governor Steve Beshear and Attorney General Jack Conway announced plans expand eKASPER’s reach in the medical field and ensure that doctors understand the merits of the system.
There will be multiple legislative proposals designed to better track prescription drugs and choke off the supply of pills from illegal sources, license and regulate pain clinics in Kentucky, with strict requirements regarding who may own or operate them.
In August, Kentucky hosted the first meeting of a new Interstate Prescription Drug Abuse Task Force, which is composed of representatives from Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia and Tennessee.
The task force includes representatives from government, law enforcement, health care, and advocacy groups. The group is developing ways that states can work together to choke off the so-called “pill pipeline” of illegal prescription drugs streaming into those states from the south.
Society pays such a heavy cost for addiction, from the families it tears apart to the prisons whose cells are full of inmates entangled in its web. That is why there is such strong bipartisan support to do what needs to be done.
We cannot afford to wait any longer.