With prescription drug addiction on the rise both nationwide and on Martha’s Vineyard, a well-attended forum about the issue this week focused on how the community can better fight the growing problem.
About 50 people gathered at the high school Wednesday to hear from a panel of community members and addiction experts, and to participate in a discussion about how Vineyarders can get help for prescription drug addiction.
Dr. Charles Reznikoff, an addiction specialist from the University of Minnesota, headlined the panel, discussing nationwide trends in opioid and prescription drug abuse. Opioids, synthetic pain relievers like Vicodin, are a major cause of accidental and premature death, he said: In 2010 more people died of accidental opioid overdoses than from car accidents or suicides.
While other drug use rates in America remain stable or are declining, opioid use is on the rise, said Dr. Reznikoff. He attributes the rise to the emergence of pain medications like OxyContin, which are legitimately prescribed by doctors and often available in medicine cabinets.
Closer to home, Raymond Tamasi, the president and CEO of the treatment center Gosnold on Cape Cod, said the center fields 800 to 1,000 calls a week about people seeking treatment or advice.
Statewide, he said, 10 per cent of patients going through detox identify a prescription opioid as the primary drug of addiction, while that number is 29 per cent at Gosnold.
Other panelists represented how the issue affects both law enforcement, community services and the medical community.
“The pill issue right now is off the charts,” said Michael Snowden, a member of the Martha’s Vineyard Drug Task Force, who talked about people selling Percocet for $50 or $60 a pill
The task force is working on finding where the drugs come from and what to do about it, he said, with an emphasis on getting addicts help. While there are about three prescription drug arrests a month, he said, law enforcement focuses on encouraging treatment.
Curtis Chandler, the assistant director of the teen center at the YMCA, encouraged parents to have open and honest conversations with their kids. Others suggested that help could begin at a primary-care level, with the medical community working with community services.
On the Island, drug addiction resources include the Vineyard House, Martha’s Vineyard Community Services’ outpatient treatment program, New Paths Recovery Program, the teen center, an Island-wide police drug task force, therapy and additional treatment, the correctional system, and the 12-step community.
During a discussion after the panelists spoke, some questioned whether these resources are enough.
Hazel Teagan, the cofounder of the Vineyard House, said she’s seen people wait 10 days to get a bed at Gosnold.
“I think the disease is getting harder and harder to treat, especially here on the Island,” she said, noting that there is no in-patient detox on the Vineyard, and that once people are out of a detox program, they need community resources to remain sober or abstinent. “We don’t have the beds [on the Island],” she said.
The community needs to work together, she said, instead of pointing fingers at each other.
Representatives from Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous were in the audience, and emphasized that those programs are available on the Island — Narcotics Anonymous has a meeting a day on the Vineyard, and there are three sober houses.
“There are enormous resources on this Island,” said Charles Silberstein, a psychiatrist at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. There is an “extraordinary community, but we need more; we need more resources and we need better communication.”