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Sat, Dec. 14

Who's counting the pills? MATForce seeks more regulation

COTTONWOOD -- The MATForce Steering Committee of Yavapai County's Substance Abuse Coalition is stepping up its initiative to control the distribution of narcotic prescription drugs. State Rep. Karen Fann was invited to a forum last week in Cottonwood.

Richard Dehnert said the initiative has taken on a new slogan, "who's counting?":

"Five-thousand pounds of pills the organization's Dump the Drugs campaign has collected is just the tip of the iceberg," Dehnert said.

Paige and Don Ballard talked about their daughter, Megan. "She was not a partier,. She didn't drink," said Paige. "But after a major accident with serious trauma, she was prescribed painkiller, hydrocodone, and when a prescription from a Verde Valley doctor was not enough, she began seeing a doctor in Prescott Valley as well, for another prescription."

The girl died after getting additional pills from another woman when the prescriptions ran out.

The couple said their daughter had no visible signs and it all happened in one year's time.

It was "confusing, it happened in front of our eyes, but we weren't aware of it," Don Ballard said.

Dr. Fred Johnson says the problem is also frustrating for doctors. Johnson, who administers the Emergency Department at Verde Valley Medical Center said, "Patients are demanding medications they need just to feel normal. It is so easy to write a prescription to keep the line moving. To make an impact, we need to educate doctors."

Johnson and others have been urging the physicians to sign up for the Prescription Monitoring Program, so that they can see in advance how many drugs a patient is taking, whether other doctors are writing scripts for the same drug and whether a person is doctor-shopping for pills.

"A reasonable goal for us should be to drop the number of narcotics prescribed by 50 percent," Johnson said. "That would be a goal that other communities could model."

Dr. Leon Cattolico recently got a phone call from a woman in Indiana who had read about the program in a recent newspaper article online. They were following the Yavapai County program to see if they would model it there, as well.

With the help of Dean Wright, program director for the Arizona Board of Pharmacy, Cattolico compiled a list of the number of pain relievers distributed in Yavapai County compared with Maricopa County and the numbers from Cottonwood, Camp Verde and Sedona. He told the forum that the numbers were so high that he couldn't believe it.

In Yavapai County, during a single year's time, the number of hydrocodone, a Class-3 narcotic, distributed was a staggering 8,265,119 tablets. During the same period, Maricopa County distributed over 62 million hydocodone doses.

In Cottonwood, there were 892,335 hydrocodone tablets distributed. In Camp Verde 86,322 tablets and in Sedona 139,106 were counted.

He had also compiled number for other commonly abused pain relievers, Oxycodone, Carisprodol (Soma - a muscle relaxant) and Benzodiazepines (such as Valium or Xanax). Those are the most demanded by addicts.

"I would like to see it regulated so that you would need a new prescription every time, like a Class-2 narcotic, "Dr. Cattlico said. "This is not a small problem, this is an immense problem. It is a national problem.

"I would like to see something come out of this that all doctors, health care providers, nurse-practitioners be regulated and legislated that they must use this site, and they can't plead innocent that, 'I didn't know he was an addict,' 'I didn't know he was a doctor-shopper,' when I wrote the prescription."

"Of course, cutting off he source is going to be the most important problem. A number of pharmacists have said that their hands are tied, how they fill prescriptions."

"If we can't get the corporations and the pharmacists involved so that at least they are talking to each other about these prescriptions and patients, it may be necessary to go to the DEA to get them involved to see what they can do about this problem."

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