By Suzy Kridner
Prescription opioids are driving up the increasing numbers of death and addiction in Florida.
Just ask Trudy Duffy of New Smyrna Beach.
She said she has a family member who has been addicted to prescription pain medication, oxycontin, for some time.
"There's limited treatment, inadequate treatment and not enough treatment facilities," Ms. Duffy said.
She's one of several who will speak about the impact of prescription drug abuse at the second annual Substance Abuse Task Force for Volusia and Flagler Counties public forum Oct. 25.
The key to reducing the statistics is with education and prevention through community involvement.
The public is encouraged to attend the Community Forum and Panel Discussion from 6-9 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 25, in the New Smyrna Beach High School Auditorium, 1015 10th St., New Smyrna Beach.
"When I attended the first forum a year ago, I came because everything I knew about how to help my family member had failed in the grip of addiction to opioids," Ms. Duffy said. "I was in crisis looking for help, answers, solutions, reasons, resources, companionship. And I began to find those answers by listening and learning at the forum."
She said she gets furious about the limited access to effective treatment programs and ignorance about addiction as a disease.
"The waiting lists are horrendous," Ms. Duffy said.
"Unfortunately the people who need help the most fail to recognize it and their families are ill-equipped to provide appropriate assistance," she said. "Incarceration is costly and ineffective but that is what we are doing. ... Possession of any amount of a controlled substance without a prescription can result in jail and conviction of a third degree felony. Civil rights including the right to vote are taken away as well in Florida. Do you think most parents know that when out of desperation they call the police because they don't know what else to do?"
She said the state's prescription drug database is helping as pharmacists filling prescriptions put the information into the computer.
But, she said, only 8 percent of doctors are using it when prescribing painkillers.
"It is having an impact and making a difference," she said.
Other states around us that have databases see people coming here for drugs.
"Our epidemic and lack of tracking was affecting other states," she said.
"I went to the first forum last year and things I was able to learn helped me," Ms. Duffy said. "We don't understand about addiction. It's a brain disease."
She said drug courts, where those arrested are placed in treatment, need to be expanded as they work.
Addiction is a chronic relapsing brain disease but "people can recover," she said. "I had no idea what to do."
She said people are used to recognizing alcoholism but not addiction to pain medications.
"There's a false security because doctors have prescribed it," she said.
She said cautious prescribing of pain medications by doctors, with screening for addiction and alternates for pain management, can lower the rates.
"You can ask for non-narcotic pain medication," she said.
"Many people think prescription drugs are safe," said Task Force Member and New Smyrna Beach Detective Sgt. Eugene Griffith. "The problem is that they are highly addictive. When they're not taken as prescribed - if they're mixed or injected, they can become lethal."
That lethal nature of combinations also will be shared firsthand at the forum by a woman whose sibling died from an overdose. The fact that it was the first time her sister took Xanax with hydrocodone underscores the importance of education before people begin taking prescription drugs.
One of the task force's goals is to build awareness of the problem so parents, spouses and friends will know what to look for in their loved ones who may be facing a dangerous path with highly addictive drugs, Sgt. Griffith said. That addiction can lead "down a road of crime, and there's always a risk over overdose and death."
In addition to Ms. Duffy, participants will include:
State Attorney R.J. Larizza, 7th Judicial Circuit
Judge Joseph Will, 7th Judicial Circuit Court
Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Marie Herrmann, Volusia County
Dr. Pamela Carbiener, Halifax ObGyn
Mark Jones, Community Partnership for Children
Chet Bell, Stewart-Marchman-Act Behavioral Healthcare
Ray Salazar, United Way of Volusia-Flagler Counties
Mary Flynn Boener, Stewart-Marchman-Act Behavioral Healthcare
At the end of forum, victims and/or families suffering through a family member's addiction may take part in a vigil hosted by the Narcotics, Overdose, Prevention and Education (NOPE) Task Force. NOPE initiatives are geared toward middle- and high-school aged students.
Representatives will share presentations with parents that will be given in local schools later this year.
There also will be displays and information from various agencies involved in treatment and prevention.
For more information on the forum on task force initiatives, call St. Griffith at (386) 424-2249.