With prescription drug abuse increasing on Martha’s Vineyard, some Islanders are calling for a new course of action: awareness about the problem.
“One of the things we have to address is the use of prescription drugs,” said Tom Bennett, senior clinical advisor with the Island Counseling Center at Martha’s Vineyard Community Services. “It will take a whole community effort to address this issue.”
Part of that effort includes a community forum to be held Wednesday, March 21 entitled Prescription Drug Abuse on MV: How it Affects Us All. The event, hosted by Martha’s Vineyard Community Services and the Dukes County Health Council’s Youth Task Force, will feature a panel of pharmacists, police, hospital, and treatment facility representatives, as well as Dr. Charles Reznikoff, an expert on addiction medicine.
The event begins at 5 p.m. at the high school library conference room.
The prescription drug problem on the Island is nothing new to police officers and other officials. Last year, thieves in Edgartown broke in to 16 homes looking for prescription drugs, and the court blotter sometimes reads like a pharmacy: Suboxone, Xanax, Valium, OxyContin, Adderal.
“It’s come to the point now . . . where it really is an epidemic,” Mr. Bennett said.
In 2009, a state OxyContin and Heroin Commission report said that Massachusetts has one of the highest rates of opioid abuse in the nation, and that the drugs caused 3,265 deaths in Massachusetts from 2002 to 2007.
According to a 2011 National Drug Threat Assessment conducted by the Department of Justice, the abuse of controlled prescription drugs “constitutes a problem second only to the abuse of marijuana in scope and pervasiveness in the United States; the problem is particularly acute among adolescents.”
Closer to home, though, Vineyard students are not reporting high levels of prescription drug use. A 2010 anonymous youth risk behavior survey conducted by the Youth Task Force showed that 12 per cent of 473 Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School students surveyed reported using a prescription medication without a doctor’s orders in their lifetime.
Comparatively, alcohol was the most used substance with 43 per cent of students reporting using alcohol. Thirty-four per cent reported using marijuana.
2012 survey results will be released in six weeks, and will have more detailed questions about prescription drugs, according to Youth Task Force coordinator Jamie Vanderhoop.
Anecdotally, she said, she’s heard that prescription drug abuse is a larger problem among 18 to 24 year olds, and some high school students might find themselves in social situations with that age group.
Sergeant Jeff Stone, coordinator of the Island Drug Task Force, said the prescription drug problem peaked a year or two ago. “Since then the hospital’s made some steps to try to get a handle on it,” he said. “More people are aware of the problem.”
But it remains “a huge, huge problem” both on the Island and across the state, he said, adding that the prescription drug problem is bigger than hard drugs like heroin and cocaine.
“We hear about it every day.”
On a state level, legislation entitled An Act Relative to Prescription Drug Diversion, Abuse, and Addiction and sponsored by the Joint Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse, has been passed by the state senate, and will next be taken up in the house.
The legislation would require anyone with the ability to prescribe controlled substances to enroll in the Prescription Monitoring Program, which shows the prescription history of a patient for the past year. Participation in the monitoring program is currently voluntary, with about 1,700 of about 40,000 prescribers participating.
The bill also requires pharmacists to alert police when reporting theft or loss of controlled substances, have prescription drug lock boxes for sale and to distribute pamphlets about opiate abuse along with prescriptions.
In August 2010, Martha’s Vineyard Community Services opened New Paths Recovery Program, which is the highest level for addiction treatment available on the Island.
“Right from the beginning, prescription drug abuse and dependence have been a very large component of the experience of the people we serve,” said Jill De La Hunt, the program coordinator.
The program offers an intensive out-patient program, with participants required to come to at least three, three-hour meetings each week. Participants, 19 years of age and older, also receive individual, group and family therapy, and the center encourages participation in Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous, and offers mental health services.
The center offers individual treatment for adolescents.
The center reveals a snapshot of addiction on the Island. The program started with two or three participants in each class and “has grown considerably,” Ms. De La Hunt said, to up to 16 people per class. The center expected to see 50 people in the first year and 100 people every year after — as of the end of 2011, she said, they had seen more than 150 people.
Ms. De La Hunt said narcotic and Benzodiazepines are both frequently abused, and pose different problems: Benzodiazepine can create dependence within two weeks, and withdrawal can be dangerous, she said. When narcotics aren’t available, people sometimes turn to heroin, which can be cheaper and more readily available.
The center has seen people as young as 19 and as old as 66, Ms. De La Hunt said, with most attendance from people between 30 and 40 years of age and 50 and 60 years of age. There have also significant numbers of people in their twenties, she said.
She compared the growing problem to how, a few decades ago, kids might have tried one of their parents’ cigarettes. “It’s just out there, it’s a casual thing kids try,” she said.