Tue, Jan. 21

Guest Editorial: Join the fight: ‘Sign Up to Save Lives’

Today in Arizona as well as across America we face a prescription drug abuse epidemic. Every day we hear or read news stories about addiction and loss of life due to the abuse and misuse of prescription medications. All too often these stories are of young people using a combination of alcohol and pills to get high with devastating results.

I have been a Family Physician for 35 years with 12 of those years serving the Verde Valley, Prior to that I was a pharmacist. I have seen the problems with prescription drug abuse first-hand. This experience has caused me to become dedicated to fighting this problem. We do not want to lose one more life in Yavapai County, having lost ten already in the past year.

Today, I am writing this letter asking everyone for help in speaking out against prescription drug abuse. I, along with MATFORCE, a coalition of community leaders, medical professionals, law enforcement officials and volunteers are urging physicians, pharmacists, and all health care practitioners to “Sign Up to Save Lives.” We are asking all practitioners to enroll in and use the Prescription Drug Monitoring Site from the Arizona State Board of Pharmacy. Currently only 15 percent of practitioners are enrolled and using the system.

One might ask why it is important to use the system. It allows a prescriber or dispenser to quickly obtain a patient’s controlled substance prescription history for the previous year. This can allow them to evaluate an addictive or abusive pattern of behavior, thus permitting a referral for substance abuse treatment, or a discontinuation of prescribing those medications. There are reports of patients being prescribed excessive amounts of medication at present in Yavapai County monthly.

In our county with a population of just over 200,000 people, 13.2 million tablets of Hydrocodone and Oxycodone were dispensed in one year’s time. Our children are at greatest risk as they are abusing pills in record-breaking numbers according to the 2010 Arizona Youth Lifetime Abuse Survey. This survey shows that almost 33 percent of 10th- and 12th-grade students have abused prescription medications. Even more alarming is the fact that 16 percent of eighth grade students reported abuse.

As part of the “Sign Up to Save Lives” campaign, letters were mailed and phone calls made to all area Health Care Providers asking them to enroll in the program. Some have responded, however, many more need to do so.

As mentioned earlier, I would like to ask for your help. Do you know someone whose life has been adversely affected by prescription drug Abuse? Families facing the consequences of addiction or abuse including loss of a loved one, know first-hand the devastation. They also know it requires more than one person or one organization to make a difference.

Your voice can help make a difference and even save a life. I would like to suggest to readers that the next time they visit their physician, dentist, pharmacist or other practitioner, they mention their personal concern about this epidemic and ask the practitioner if they use the monitoring program. If they are not enrolled encourage them to do so.

Reducing prescription drug abuse and misuse and saving lives takes the efforts of many. It is my belief, and the mission of MATFORCE, that by working together as a community we can reduce substance abuse.

As a physician concerned about the health of our community, I encourage you to let your voice be heard.

-- Leon M. Cattolico D.O., Cottonwood

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