Articles of Interest

Preventing Substance Abuse in Bucks County

By Nina Drinna, MSN, Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner

Would you be surprised to learn that there were 2,488 deaths from “drug poisoning” in Pennsylvania in 2014? Would you be shocked to discover that 205 of those deaths occurred in Bucks County? These numbers are compelling. Most overdoses occurred on Saturdays and Sundays, and the most common drugs involved in overdose deaths were opiates such as Vicodin, Percocet, and heroin, followed by benzodiazepines such as Xanax, Ativan, Valium, and Klonopin. Prescription drug abuse is a serious problem in Pennsylvania and in Bucks County.

Many young people start their addiction with prescription drugs such as Vicodin, Percocet, and OxyContin. According to the World Health Organization, Americans are prescribed the most hydrocodone (Vicodin) and oxycodone (Percocet) products worldwide, accounting for almost 100% of Vicodin and 81% of Percocet consumed globally.

While pain relief is necessary and indicated for the treatment of various pain syndromes, the prevalence of opiate prescriptions in America increases the likelihood of abuse. Unfortunately, some people transition to heroin use as prescription opiates become more difficult and/or expensive to obtain. Alcohol abuse and the use of marijuana also increase the likelihood of addiction to heroin.

Abuse of tobacco, alcohol, and prescription drugs costs our nation more than $700 billion annually in healthcare, lost wages, and crime. Besides the financial cost of addiction, there is the immeasurable toll that substance abuse takes on the families and friends of the person struggling with addiction.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) tracks trends in prevalence of various drugs starting at age 12. The collection of this data allows educators, legislators, parents, healthcare workers, and community leaders to develop plans to prevent substance abuse before a person becomes addicted. NIDA reports that for every dollar invested in prevention, a savings of up to $10 in treatment for alcohol or other substance abuse can be seen.

Fortunately, there are effective strategies to prevent the initiation and progression of drug abuse in our children, spouses, and other family and friends in our community. Prevention programs work to discover and address risk factors for drug abuse and to fortify protective factors against the development of substance abuse.

In Bucks County, there is a countywide initiative coordinated by the Bucks County Drug and Alcohol Commission with the assistance of various community organizations to prevent the development of substance abuse. In order to reduce the amount of prescription medications in the community, there are drop-off boxes at every police station and pharmacy in Bucks County for the return of unused, unwanted, and expired medications. Drug take-back programs occur periodically throughout the county to allow easy disposal of medications as well.

Prescribers in Pennsylvania are provided guidelines for pain management. Pharmacies are now able to track prescriptions more closely to reduce excessive prescription drug abuse through a prescription drug monitoring program. Communities are hosting “Town Hall” information sessions regarding the heroin epidemic in our county, which connects families who have lost a loved one to heroin with community leaders to raise awareness of the scope of the problem and to develop and implement prevention and early intervention programs targeting substance abuse.

Being aware of early warning signs of drug use and knowing risk factors for addiction can help stop addiction before it progresses. Some warning signs are:

  • Conflicts at work and/or school
  • Falling grades and/or poor work performance
  • Quitting school teams
  • Seeking medical care from multiple prescribers
  • Abandoning hobbies and activities that used to be important

Risks for developing a substance use disorder include:

  • New friends, and new, unfamiliar peer groups
  • Staying out on weekends
  • Drug use before age 17, including marijuana and alcohol
  • Pain management issues
  • Untreated mental illness including depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder
  • Previous substance abuse

For more information regarding treatment of addiction please refer to BDAP Network of Care Website www.bucks.pa.networkofcare.org.

Only by sustained focus on prevention and early treatment of substance abuse in Bucks County can we slow and eventually eliminate overdose deaths from “drug poisoning.” Bill Gates said at a conference to address the AIDS epidemic, “Treatment without prevention is not sustainable.” While Mr. Gates was speaking about HIV/AIDS when this statement was made, it also applies to addiction and substance abuse treatment. By reducing the number of prescription drugs available for abuse by disposing of unused and expired prescriptions, educating the public and prescribers about addiction, and increasing awareness of the warning signs of addiction, we can work together to decrease substance abuse and overdose deaths in Pennsylvania and Bucks County.