Prescription Drug Abuse Epidemic Comes West

Pathways-- Prescription Drug Abuse Epidemic Comes West -- 08-23-16

Prescription Drug Abuse Finds Western States Unprepared

The epidemic of prescription drug abuse that had struck many regions in the eastern and southern U.S. has now struck with a vengeance in several western states where law enforcement and drug treatment professionals have been unprepared.  In fact the rates of prescription drug abuse has exceeded the levels of prescription drug abuse in some eastern regions where the epidemic first began.

SAMHSA Reports The Highest Prescription Drug Abuse Rates Are Now In The Western United States

According to a recent survey completed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) the highest prescription drug abuse rates in the country are now found in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Colorado.  As an example, in Kentucky where the prescription drug abuse epidemic had its roots 4.5% of people over the age of 12 reportedly abuse prescription drugs, but in Oregon the same segment of the population that reports prescription drug abuse is 6.5%.  Public health official, including drug treatment professionals, and law enforcement officials in some western states have no plan or policy in force to handle the prescription drug epidemic that has now come to their cities and towns.

The rates of prescription drug abuse in southern and eastern states has gone down recently, while the rates of prescription drug abuse has spiked in western states like Washington, Colorado, and Oregon.  According to reports, government officials in these states were unprepared for the spike in prescription drug abuse.  Idaho's drug policy administrator is quoted as saying "We're just now in the beginning stages of grasping the full magnitude" of the prescription drug abuse issue.

Prescription Drug Abuse Problem Starts In Southern California

The increase across the western United States has been mostly fueled by drug dealers who obtain large supplies of drugs from "pill mills" in Southern California and then transport them to other states in the west.  Much like the problem of the early to mid 2000's where addicts and dealers obtained large supplies of prescription drugs in Florida and then transported them to other parts of the East Coast, Southern California is providing the supply to meet the demand in other regions of the west.  While just getting their arms around the methamphetamine problem in their areas, the prescription drug abuse problem crept unnoticed into their cities and towns catching law enforcement officials in the western United States unprepared.

Some Prescription Drug Abuse Policies Are Beginning To Work Out West

Taking a page from their counterparts back east, many western states are beginning to adopt policies that were developed several years ago in states like Kentucky, West Virginia, and Florida.  A crackdown on "pill mills" in Florida has resulted in drastic reduction of prescription drugs on the black market, and education programs across the East and South have resulted in reductions in prescription drug abuse and reductions in overdose deaths attributed to prescription drug abuse.  In Florida, the number of deaths related to prescription drug overdoses has gone down by 17% over the past couple of years.  In West Virginia, the rate of prescription drug abuse in people 12 and over has gone down from 5.9% to 4.8% over the past two years.

Prescription drug abuse continues to be an epidemic in the United States, but education and public awareness campaigns have shown success in the East and in the South.  By adopting many of the policies put in place back east, western states should be able to attack prescription drug abuse in their states.