Doctors can take steps to reduce opioid deaths

So ingrained have prescription pills become in the American lifestyle, it’s almost hard to imagine a time before them. A pill to wake up. A pill to go sleep. A pill to stop eating. A pill to start eating. A pill when we’re down and a pill when we’re too up. A pill whenever we feel pain. A pill just to have a good time. A new report released last month by the Ventura County civil grand jury helped put the problem in perspective.

Here are some of the sobering statistics shared in the grand jury’s seven-page report:

One in five Ventura County teens has abused prescription drugs.

More than 50 percent of teens get the drugs for free from friends and family.

Of county residents surveyed for the study, 75 percent indicated that prescription drugs, for non-prescribed purposes, are “fairly easy” or “very easy” for teens to obtain.

The study is just the latest proof that the opioid epidemic sweeping the nation has hit Ventura County, and our west Los Angeles County communities, head-on. In fact, the majority of opioid-related deaths in the county are now from prescription pills, not heroin—a fact that speaks to the danger presented by these drugs.

While it’s not just teens abusing these pills—most overdose victims are over 40— they are clearly some of the most at risk. The tragic loss of a 16-year-old Thousand Oaks High School student last month is just the latest wake-up call to local parents that these drugs are out there, and when taken without a doctor’s orders, they can be deadly.

It’s clear this plague isn’t getting eradicated overnight. Years of work educating the public about alternatives to these habit-forming pills lie ahead of us, not to mention efforts to address the supply side of the problem.

That’s why it’s all the more frustrating that more physicians in Ventura County and around the state aren’t taking advantage of one proven tool we have in the fight against opioid abuse—the Controlled Substance Utilization, Review and Evaluation System, better known as CURES (see related story on Page 2).

This prescription drug monitoring system allows physicians and pharmacists to look up what has been prescribed for any patient they’re treating. The problem is it’s voluntary, and it requires doctors themselves to input accurate information in order to be effective.

The fewer doctors that take part, the less reliable the system is. And CURES definitely can’t work if emergency room physicians refuse to use it when seeing new patients.

Yes, we understand their first priority is to save lives, their second to treat pain. But the myriad deaths that have come as a result of opioid addiction should be motivation enough to take more seriously the over-prescribing of drugs such as Vicodin and oxycodone—and anti-anxiety meds like Xanax, which are also being widely abused.

CURES isn’t a cure-all, but it is another tool in the tool bag to fight this menace. It’s time all local doctors start using it.