Maine may seem like an out of the way place to vacationers who visit our rugged coastline, hike Mount Katahdin or kayak across a quiet lake in the Maine woods. But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Maine’s 12.3 per 100,000 drug overdose rate is higher than that of Massachusetts (11.8), Connecticut (10.8), New Jersey (8) and Washington DC 9.4). (http://www.cdc.gov/HomeandRecreationalSafety/rxbrief/states.html) “Pill mills” contribute to Maine’s drug overdose rate.
A “pill mill” is a clinic, pain – management center or other facility used as a front for dispensing pain pills inappropriately or without a sound medical reason. The pill mill is not like your typical doctor’s office or drugstore chain pharmacy. Unlike a legitimate doctor’s office or pharmacy, many pill mills treat pain with pills only, provide pills without performing a physical exam or asking to see prior medical records, accept cash only and allow patients to select their own medication. As a result of the increased number of pill mills, many Americans have easy access to prescription pain killers for non-medical use resulting in addiction, emergency room treatment, loss of productivity and death.
There are many reasons why a Mainer would start down the path to using prescription pain killers, sedatives and stimulants without a prescription. Chronic pain that is not relieved by non-prescription pain killers in combination with limited access to an appropriate pain management system in rural areas is one common scenario. Cognitive or behavioral psychotherapy that could alleviate anxiety and depression may not be available in isolated rural areas. Poor state government oversight of health care providers acting outside the limits of accepted medical practice for prescribing controlled substances exposes unsuspecting Mainers to the risk of addiction and overdose. Insufficient public-school education about the dangers of prescription drugs means that peers share drugs without appreciating a lethal risk.
The problem with “pill mills” is that the product easily crosses state lines. Darryl Crandall, a commander in Maine’s drug enforcement agency has often arrested Mainers prescribed oxycodone, a prescription pain killer, from walk-in pain clinics in Florida that operate in strip malls alongside pizza parlors and hair salons. And while Florida legislators may be trimming pill mills sales with tougher laws against pill mills, other states have pill mills that supply nonprescription pills too. Maine law enforcement agents seized 44,000 doses of the legal prescription medication in 2011 as compared to 10,000 doses of the legal prescription medication in 2010.
The CDC has a list of the top 10 things you should know about prescription drug abuse:
- Drug overdoses now kill more Americans than motor vehicle crashes.
- Enough painkillers were prescribed in 2010 to medicate each American adult every 4 hours for one month.
- Deaths from prescription pain killers have reached epidemic levels in the past decade.
- Roughly 1 in 20 people in the United States reported using prescription pain killers for non-medical reasons in the past year.
- You can help prevent prescription drug overdoses.
- The prescription drug overdose epidemic can be stopped through effective public health interventions.
- States can start prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPS) and use Patient Review and Restriction (PRR) programs.
- States can enforce policies aimed at reducing drug diversion, abuse and overdose.
- States and communities can enhance access to substance abuse treatment.
- Health care providers should use evidence – based clinical guidelines and practices to promote safe and effective use of the prescription pain killers.
Mainers can take steps to prevent the prescription drug overdose of a loved one by storing prescription drugs in a secure place and disposing of them properly, refusing to sell or share prescription pain killers, sedatives or stimulants, and finding help for loved ones with a prescription drug problem by contacting the Maine Association of Substance Abuse Programs for help at (207) 621-8118 or by visiting their website at www.masap.org.