Oregon is No. 1 in legal drug abuse

Oregonians lead the nation in the abuse of prescription and over the counter drugs and are showing up at Asante's chemical recovery center in much larger numbers than users of meth, cocaine and heroin combined. Teens are helping expand that toll.

That was the sobering message delivered by Dr. Darryl S. Inaba, clinical manager of Genesis of Asante Health System in Central Point, speaking to 280 substance abuse professionals Friday at its third annual educational conference.

In raw numbers, Oregon as a whole ranks eighth in the nation for diversion and abuse of such drugs, while the state's teens rank fourth in the nation, Inaba said, adding that, viewed as a percentage of the state's small population, these groups are probably No. 1 in the nation.

"All studies show that Oregon is a hotbed of illicit drugs and it centers in the rural and suburban populations, like Medford. It could be the lack of activities, people maybe getting bored with what they've got, not appreciating the natural wonders," said Inaba, adding that the problem is exacerbated because 80 percent of the state's population lives near the I-5 corridor and that's where the drugs travel.

Alcohol is still the number one substance abused by those entering treatment but about 40 percent are there to get over prescription and over the counter (OTC) drugs, Inaba noted.

If they're regulated by prescription, how do abusers get them? It's not hard, he says. While some states are trying to start databases showing who's taking what drug prescribed by what doctor and refilled by what pharmacist how many times, the process is very labor intensive and often blocked by privacy protections in HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which bars divulging of health information, even to other doctors, without the patient's written consent.

The Internet, as well as new "compassionate pain management" laws in recent years have also made it easier to get powerful painkillers, he said.

As a result, patients here can get prescriptions from any number of doctors, Inaba said. Tracking the number of refills is also hard to control. So, Inaba urges doctors to use better diagnostics on patients, making sure they need the drugs, chiefly painkillers, that they're asking for.

"The opportunity for addicts to manipulate the system is pretty good, if you don't monitor them," he said, in an interview. "Most doctors don't. They should have patients bring their pill bottle and count how many got used."

Prescription drugs spread illicitly when patients don't use up all their prescription and an addict offers them a handsome price, he said. On the street, the two most popular prescription painkillers are pricey — $3 to $5 a pill for Vicodin and $15 to $25 a pill for OxyContin. Ritalin or Adderall and cough syrup with DXM (dextromethorphan) were the third- and fourth-most abused licit drugs.

Increased use is reported in the region for Cylert, Soma, Darvon, methadone, Subutex, Suboxone, Viagra, Benadryl, Dimetapp, Singlet, Nyquil, Primatene and Sudafed. Inaba handed out a long list of increasingly popular sedative-hypnotics and OTC depressants with street names like roofies, blue heaven, double trouble, green weenies, mother's little helpers and 'ludes.

The valley's Meth Task Force has been successful in lowering meth use in the last few years, so now meth addicts have dropped to about half the numbers of prescription drug addicts presenting at Genesis, Inaba said.

However, women and girls choose prescription drugs in larger numbers than men and boys, said Inaba, noting, "I always thought there was no gender difference but it's the drug of choice for them, more acceptable than meth or other street drugs."

In addition, detection and treatment is made harder by the fact that 75 percent of hardcore drug users in the U.S. are able to hold down jobs.

Teens, too, are getting into the picture and Inaba cautions parents to hide prescription drugs because teen friends visiting the house will often head for the bathroom, "grazing" for prescription drugs they can steal.

Among teens, Vicodin has been abused by 18 percent, while OxyContin, Ritalin or Adderall and cough syrup have been abused by 10 percent.

Inaba told the professionals that Americans spend more than $100 billion a year on prescription drugs and $25 billion to buy them illegally. Such drugs are 30 percent of the U.S. drug problem. When considered in cost and deaths, he said, drug addiction is the nations' number one health problem.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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