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Prescription Drug Abuse Initiative Aims to Save Lives

One-in-four Americans has a direct personal link to prescription drug abuse, recent studies indicate, while most first-time abusers get their drugs from a family member or friend, and Alabama is no different.

In order to combat this growing problem, the Medical Association is leading a multi-industry coalition of medical, business, health insurance and law enforcement organizations in the launch of a new initiative – Smart & Safe – aimed at providing education on and encouraging the safe prescription, use, storage and disposal of medication.

Smart & Safe will build upon the success already realized through passage of a 2013 legislative package aimed at reducing prescription drug abuse and diversion that was spearheaded by the Medical Association. In the year following its passage, that legislative package resulted in Alabama having the largest decrease in the southeast and third-largest decrease in the nation regarding use of the most highly-addictive prescription drugs.

Buddy Smith, M.D., president of the Medical Association of the State of Alabama, said despite this progress, work must continue to provide more continuing medical education opportunities for physicians and new and improved resources for the public.

“There is no question we continue to face an epidemic,” Dr. Smith said, “and our mission with Smart and Safe is to stem the tide. The multi-industry group making up the Smart and Safe coalition speaks both to the size of this problem and also the extent to which this issue touches each of our lives. At the same time, it also demonstrates the commitment that we and all of our partners have to do our part within our respective professions and businesses to reduce the abuse of prescription drugs in Alabama.”

Raising awareness about proper medication use is essential to preventing accidental overdose and death. According to Acting State Health Officer Dr. Tom Miller, prescription drug abuse is a significant threat to Alabama’s public health.

“The number of deaths due to drug overdose, including prescription drugs, has resulted in the deaths of 762 Alabama residents between 2010 and 2014,” Dr. Miller said. “In 2014 alone, there were 221 deaths due to drug overdoses. We wholeheartedly support the Smart and Safe campaign and the effort to tackle prescription drug abuse by promoting responsible and safe prescription use and the proper disposal of medications.”

Roughly a quarter of Americans has been touched by this epidemic. Unfortunately, these estimates continue to increase every year.

“Our company commends the Medical Association for implementing its Smart and Safe campaign,” said Dr. Darrel Weaver, medical director for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama. “According to a recent study, Alabama has the 26th highest drug overdose mortality rate in the United States, and the number of drug overdose deaths in Alabama has tripled since 1999, a majority from prescription drugs. These facts validate the critical importance of the Smart and Safe campaign, and Blue Cross is proud to support the Medical Association to help ensure its success.”

Individuals’ addiction to prescription medication is a heavy burden on families that can shatter lives, whether through the effects from continued abuse of drugs or the terrible loss that can come from a fatal overdose.

“Drug addiction robs Alabama families and communities of opportunity, prosperity, health, safety and perhaps most devastating of all – it steals human potential. The massive weight of addiction is potentially the greatest threat facing our state,” said Barry Matson, chair of the Alabama Drug Abuse Task Force and deputy director of the Alabama District Attorney’s Association and Office of Prosecution Services. “As a career prosecutor and addiction prevention advocate, I know efforts like this will make a difference in Alabama. I applaud the Medical Association and its partners for their determination to combat prescription drug addiction and compassion for the citizens of Alabama.”

While drug abuse directly affects families and individuals, its indirect effects on Alabama communities and the businesses therein are substantial according to Denson Henry, vice president of Henry Brick Co., in Selma, and co-chair of the Business Council of Alabama’s Health Committee.

“Abuse of legal and illegal drugs is expensive to business, industry and employees due to higher insurance claims, lost productivity, injuries both on and off the job…not to mention the human cost. Because of this, business and industry seek to make work places and employees drug-free. Not only is it good for the bottom line, it’s also good for affected employees, co-workers and their families. Reducing abuse can reduce these ills and increase the bottom line. Encouraging and supporting treatment and prevention can help the employee, co-workers, management and families,” Henry said.

Smart & Safe launched following a statewide press conference on Wednesday, Jan. 20. For more information about Smart & Safe, contact Lori M. Quiller, APR, at (334) 261-2000.

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