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Prescription Drug Abuse – A Pharmacist’s Struggle

By Katie Galyean

Prescription_Drug_AbusePrescription drug abuse is becoming a major problem in both rural and urban North Carolina. Bladen Online is taking a closer look at Prescription drug abuse in Bladen County. This is the first in a series of stories more closely examining the issue.

According to the North Carolina Department of Justice, prescription drug abuse is on the rise throughout North Carolina.

“Drug overdoses have eclipsed car crashes as the leading cause of preventable death,” said Rebecca Hester, pharmacist at The Medicine Shop in Bladenboro.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 6 to 7 million Americans, ages 12 and up, have misused a prescribed drug in the past month. Bladen County has certainly been affected by this epidemic.

“Every day,” said Bruce Dickerson, pharmacist at Dickerson’s Pharmacy in Elizabethtown, when asked if he ever has to turn people down when they come in with a prescription he knows they are abusing.

“I think you could ask any prescriber, any pharmacist, not a day goes by that we don’t have to tell people no,” said Dickerson.

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Hester bought The Medicine Shop in 2009. She said at that time there were lots of people who would go to several doctors to get multiple prescriptions for the same thing.

“At that time there was no database… so we would only know if they were getting multiple prescriptions from us. We could call around if we suspected something, but at that time the database wasn’t active,” said Hester.

Since then, a database that lists every controlled drug prescription that a person has received, along with how much and when they received it, has become available to medical personnel. The database also includes which doctor wrote the prescription and the pharmacy that filled it.

Hester said that at the beginning of her business, she had to deny several people prescriptions because they showed signs of being abusers.

“Certain things are supposed to raise red flags. If they are from a different city, their prescriber is from a different city, if there is more than one person coming in with the same prescription at the same time from the same provider, those are all red flags,” said Hester.

THE SERIES
Part 2: The Addict’s Burden
Part 3: The Physician’s Pressure

Hester said she has been mistreated because she has denied people medication. “I’ve had my tires slashed, I’ve been threatened. I had one guy arrested and after he was arrested, it took him about 15 minutes to get back to my pharmacy and stand in front of the pharmacy all day to threaten me. We’ve been broken into… There are lots of stories.”

Hester said several of her past patients have died of drug overdose. “I would say out of the 7 most recent, 6 of them left our pharmacy because we would not fill their control drugs as often as they wanted and they found a pharmacy that would and they died of drug overdoses,” said Hester.

“I certainly don’t want to deny anyone who is in pain relief from that pain, but there is a big difference in someone who has an injury and is in pain and someone coming in who never has a record of injury or anything like that. I’m not going to support that,” said Hester.

Hester said it can be frustrating to be the last stop before someone gets their medication and have to turn them down. “A pharmacist is kind of the last line of defense. It can be hard to have that pressure on you.”

Both Hester and Dickerson said secondary access to these prescriptions causes problems. Many addicts will raid medicine cabinets of elderly family members or even go door to door asking to use the bathroom and then go through the medications found there.

Dickerson and Hester both warned that anyone can get addicted to prescription drugs. “I think we have to be careful not to stereotype anyone. Addicts are people just like the rest of us are. They need help and we need to figure out how to get them help,” said Dickerson.

“It’s not just a bad behavior, there is physiology behind it that people can’t help,” said Hester.

Dickerson believes our biggest problem in fighting prescription drug abuse is not having a game plan. “There is no one way that everyone agrees on as to how to deal with the problem. We don’t have a good, conservative effort to help people find ways to get into a program where you will no longer be addicted to the drug,” he said.

Being able to talk to someone about their addiction is what will lead to healing for the addict, according to Dickerson. “The main thing is dialogue. When somebody comes in, if we can try to get them to talk to us and [ask questions like] ‘is your pain more?’ or ‘is this something you feel like you can cut back on?’ Most of the people who are really struggling don’t have anybody to talk to or don’t know that it is okay to [talk about it].”

Dickerson also encourages anyone who is struggling with addiction to reach out to someone. “A minister, a  teacher, a law enforcement official, their pharmacist, their prescriber, if they are just willing to reach out and try to get some help, [it will be there].”

“Don’t be accepting of it, but be sympathetic,” advised Dickerson.

“[Do not] share your medication,” included Hester. “Those are not to be shared. Just like you wouldn’t want to give an alcoholic a sip of whisky to help with something, you may not know they’re an alcoholic. It’s the same thing with people abusing drugs. You may not know that they are addicted to this drug. Most people don’t think of it as a serious issue, but it is.”

Hester works with GenerationRX, a movement to bring more awareness to the prescription drug abuse problem. If you would like more information on drug abuse you can go to their website, www.generationrx.com. If you would like to ask Hester to speak at an event on this issue, you can contact her at the Medicine Shop at (910) 863-3949.

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