Albany County saw more prescription drug overdoses in the first three months of 2012 than in all of 2011. In fact, a third of non-natural and accidental deaths in Albany County last year can be linked to prescription drug overdoses, according to County Coroner Kathleen Vernon-Kubichek, nearly triple the amount seen in 2011.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has classified prescription drug abuse as a national epidemic, a trend that prompted the Obama Administration to launch its National Prescription Drug Abuse Plan in 2011. Vernon-Kubichek says that a small part of the increase in her county might be due to improved mandatory toxicology exams for each case, not just those suspected of overdose. However, she says there does seem to be a big increase in deaths from opiate painkillers and common sedatives, like Clonazepam and Diazepam.
“My conjecture is that because the mindset is that these are medications and not drugs that they’re safe,” she says, “and that’s causing people to use them a little more liberally or abuse them much more readily than they would were they illegal street drugs.”
Vernon-Kubichek says the majority of drug fatalities are unintentional, and that people underestimate how dangerous it is to mix medications or to drink even small amounts of alcohol while taking prescription drugs.
“It’s not necessarily that people are taking too many of their Oxycontin and then going to the bar and getting just absolutely wasted and, you know, you’d be surprised that they survived drinking that much alcohol anyway,” says Vernon-Kubichek, “it’s that they’re having the couple of beers or the couple of scotches that a person would have anyway, just in concert with those other drugs it’s very dangerous.”
Wyoming Board of Pharmacy Director Mary Walker says that the board is working to put its prescription database online to make it easier for doctors, dentists and law enforcement officials to monitor patients who may be getting prescriptions from multiple doctors for personal or illicit reasons. In the meantime, providers can access a faxable form through the Pharmacy Board’s website at http://pharmacyboard.state.wy.us/.