Michigan drug prescriptions rise, health officials worry about abuse

By NICK STANEK

Capital News Service

LANSING — Prescription drug use in Michigan rose 6 percent in 2013, continuing an upward trend that has health officials worried about an increase access to opiates that could lead to greater drug abuse.

The data comes from the Michigan Automated Prescription System established to help doctors track their patients’ prescription histories, said Larry Scott, the manager of the Michigan Bureau of Substance Abuse & Addiction Services.

The Department of Community Health also tracked prescriptions filled across the state between 2003 and 2010. While most drug prescriptions have increased, the numbers for opiates were exceptionally high. Prescriptions filled for oxycodone doubled, for methadone tripled and for hy-dromorphine quadrupled, according to the state prescription drug report.

But prescriptions written for suboxone rose by almost 90,000 percent during the seven year study.

“Suboxone is longer lasting and will give you a more euphoric effect [than methadone],” Scott said. “You can pick suboxone up at the pharmacy but you have to pick methadone up from the clinic.”

Suboxone and methadone are used to treat opiate dependence. They stabilize patients during withdrawal and get them away from heroin, said Larry Wagenknecht, the chief executive officer of the Michigan Pharmacists Association.

Chris Handbaugh, the executive director of Addiction Treatment Services in Traverse City, said numbers of prescriptions have risen because there is more demand.

“People are becoming more aware of their recreational [effects] and there is a legal way to get them,” he said.

Doctors are being trained in the pharmacology of addiction in medical school to fight the epi-demic, Scott said.

One reason for the increase in these drug prescriptions may be an awareness campaign for pain management launched by the state about 10 years ago, Wagenknecht said.

One of the biggest concerns for health officials is diversion, a practice where patients give or sell their medication to other people, Scott said. More prescriptions mean more opportunity for patients to get their hands on drugs. This group of patients includes adolescence and teens.

Since there are more drugs prescribed, there are more drugs available for kids to get their hands on Scott said.

People can get prescription drugs from any doctor, but to reduce the risk of addiction they should seek experts, said Terry Newton, the executive director at Harbor Hall Addiction Treat-ment Services in Petoskey.

“If someone wants to seek treatment for pain, they should see someone who specializes in pain,” he said.

The prescription drug problem is also a driving force behind a growing problem with heroin, Scott said. Like oxycodone, morphine, methadone and suboxodone, heroin is also an opiate.

Most of the prescriptions in the state prescription drug report were for opiates, a family of pain-killers that includes heroin.

“Once the addiction is established and prescriptions are no longer available from a prescriber or a health insurance plan, it is difficult for persons to continue to afford the medication,” Scott said via email. As a result, they turn to heroin.

Handbaugh sees that at his clinic: “Within the last 6 to 8 years we’ve seen a resurgence in hero-in as people become addicted to opiates.”

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