By Sue Winter
Prescription drugs are intended to be taken under the direction of a doctor: if used improperly, they can be dangerous — even deadly. In recent years, the misuse and illicit use of prescription drugs has grown to epidemic proportions across the country. Every day, 2,500 teenagers nationwide use a prescription drug to get high for the first time.
Here in northern Michigan we've seen far too many young people hospitalized or, worse yet, lose their lives because of prescription drug abuse. In 2009 (the most recent year that data is available), the Michigan Department of Community Health reported that more than 1,000 people were treated in hospitals for overdoses related to prescription drugs in the 30-county northern Michigan region served by Northern Michigan Substance Abuse Services.
This is a formidable problem, but the tide is beginning to turn thanks to a concerted effort. A task force composed of health care, prevention, substance use disorder treatment, human service, environmental protection and law enforcement professionals has been working to prevent prescription drug abuse through education and public awareness.
In fiscal year 2011, 10,958 adults in the Substance Abuse Services region learned about prescription drug abuse issues and solutions through presentations made by prevention specialists working with the "Be The Solution" public awareness campaign.
Since the initiative began in 2009, law enforcement agencies in 21 of the 30 targeted counties have established and maintain permanent drop-off and disposal sites for controlled medication.
Between 2009 and 2010, the number of prescriptions dispensed for controlled substances grew by 24 percent. Thanks to education efforts in the health care community, growth in our region has actually declined between 2010 and 2011, compared to a statewide increase of 7 percent.
Many of these positive efforts were recently documented in a YouTube video of people from across the region telling how they are pitching in to make a difference. The video is titled "I Am The Solution" and can be viewed on our YouTube channel, bethesolutionnmsas.com.
This is all good news, but the real progress is being made by people like you and me, because everyone can help prevent prescription drug abuse. Our research shows that more people are now aware of the problem, and are taking steps to help make prescription drugs less accessible. Here are a few simple steps everyone can take:
We also invite you to visit our Facebook page, Drug Free Northern Michigan — Be The Solution, and share information with your friends about preventing prescription drug abuse.
Working together, we all can "Be the Solution."
About the author: Sue Winter is executive director of Northern Michigan Substance Abuse Services. She has worked in the substance use disorder treatment and prevention field since 1988. She has a master's degree in Social Work from Michigan State University.
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