by Nicole Youcupicio, Casa Grande Alliance – Prevention Specialist, ACPP I

Helen noticed her friend, Mary, had a pained look on her face. “What’s wrong, Mary?” she asked.

“I don’t think I’m going to be able to join you today for a walk. My back is hurting so badly. I called the doctor’s office to make an appointment, but they can’t get me in until tomorrow. I’m just going to have to take things easy for a while,” replied Mary.

Helen didn’t like seeing her friend in so much pain and missing out on things they liked to do. She remembered how much it hurt when she had hurt her back about five months ago, while picking up a box that was a little too heavy. In fact, she remembered she still had some pills in her medicine cabinet left over from a prescription her doctor wrote her for the pain.

“Let me give you a few of my prescription pain pills until you can get in to see the doctor.” she told Mary.

Helen was being a good friend, right? Wrong! Maybe even “dead” wrong.

The problem with Helen sharing her pain medication is a doctor, who has had many years of schooling, writes a prescription for a specific person based on his or her size and medical history, and with consideration of other medications they are taking, as well as other factors. While Helen’s intentions were out of care and concern, she could have hurt her friend even more, and maybe even caused her death.

From this story, we learned to never share prescriptions because it’s dangerous (it’s also illegal). Something else we can learn from this story is that Helen kept her unused pills from a previous prescription in her medicine cabinet. The misuse and abuse of medications can be reduced by locking them up or disposing of any unused or expired medications properly so they cannot be stolen and abused. If you have children, friends or service workers (i.e. plumber, cable repair person, caregiver, etc.) in your home, it is important to keep your medicines out of the hands of others.

In Pinal County, one out of five youth report getting prescription drugs right out of their home medicine cabinet and 7.8 percent of Pinal County teens report misusing medicines in the past 30 days, with prescription pain relievers being the most frequently misused.3 A list of medication drop-off sites in Pinal County can be found on the Casa Grande Alliance website’s home page, at www.casagrandealliance.org.

Our nation is in the grip of a fast-growing epidemic of prescription drug misuse and abuse, as well as an increase in heroin use stemming from the abuse of prescription opiate painkillers. CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, said he was “stunned to learn 80 percent of the world’s pain pills are consumed in the United States, which has just 5 percent of the world’s population,” and that death from drug overdose had surpassed car accidents as the leading cause of unintentional death in America.1 In Arizona in 2015, more than 2 million grams of oxycodone alone came into the state – the third highest total per capita in the country. That same year, Arizona Department of Health Services documented about 2,400 emergency room overdoses, a significant increase from just a year prior.2 The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University aired a documentary called “Hooked Rx” on Arizona PBS in January that gave more extensive information about the problem of prescription drug addiction right here in our own state. Earlier, in 2015, they also aired “Hooked,” which brought light to Arizona’s influx of heroin, which started with the abuse of prescription opiate painkillers. Both documentaries can be viewed at https://cronkitenews.azpbs.org.

In addition to keeping medicine safe and secure, disposing of unused or expired medications, and not sharing prescriptions, you can also encourage your physicians and dentists to use the Controlled Substance Prescription Monitoring Program. It is a secure and confidential database accessed by prescribers and law enforcement, designed to help avoid the inappropriate use of controlled substances and identify illegal activity. The Casa Grande Alliance implements the statewide Prescription Drug Misuse and Abuse Initiative strategies in Casa Grande, as well as partners with other local and state agencies to reduce prescription drug misuse. For more information on how to prevent prescription drug misuse and abuse, visit the Casa Grande Alliance website at www.casagrandealliance.org or call 520-836-5022.

1 http://www.cnn.com/2014/08/29/health/gupta-unintended-consequences/ 

2 https://cronkitenews.azpbs.org/hookedrx/

3 Arizona Criminal Justice Commission. (2014) Arizona Youth Survey: Pinal County. Retrieved from http://www.azcjc.gov/acjc.web/sac/ays.aspx