Doctors discuss pain-pill abuse in Duluth forumDoctors who attended the forum say they’re accused of not doing enough to treat pain but they’re also blamed for the prescription drugs that are ultimately abused.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
The problem of prescription drug abuse is stark, Carol Falkowski said.
“We have a prescription opiate problem in this country and in this state, the likes of which we have never seen,” Falkowski told health professionals gathered for a Minnesota Medical Association-sponsored forum Thursday evening at the Holiday Inn.
Falkowski, who was the state’s drug abuse safety officer for 25 years, came to Duluth as part of the medical association’s effort to seek members’ input on ways to keep opioids such as OxyContin and Vicodin out of the wrong hands.
Doctors who attended the forum say they’re caught in the middle. They’ve been accused in the past of not doing enough to treat pain. But they’re also blamed for the prescription drugs that are ultimately abused.
“Even if you do everything right, you can be burned,” said Dr. Paul Sanford, who practices internal medicine at St. Luke’s hospital and is treasurer of the MMA. “It’s waltzing in a mine field.”
Falkowski, who now works independently under the company name Drug Abuse Dialogues, noted drug-involved deaths now exceed deaths from motor vehicle accidents in the U.S. and Minnesota.
People who become addicted will try almost anything to get the opioids, Falkowski said. She told of one woman who spent two years going to garage sales, asking to use the resident’s bathroom and stealing their prescription drugs. Two 18-year-old men took turns jumping out of a moving vehicle, getting a prescription for 30 Vicodin each time.
The health professionals who attended Thursday’s forum know what it’s like.
“People are going to lie right to your face,” said Julie Shelton, a clinical nurse specialist at Essentia Health-St. Mary’s Medical Center. “We see it way too much.”
They’ll also turn to heroin, Falkowski said, because it’s much cheaper on the street than prescription opioids. She noted that out of 20 major cities, a survey found Minneapolis had both the cheapest and purest heroin in the country. “All around the state we have the availability of high-quality heroin,” she said.
Among recommendations the MMA is considering are requiring doctors to take continuing education courses on pain management and addiction and increasing use of the Minnesota Prescription Monitoring Program. The latter is a web-based system that allows doctors to see if a patient is getting drugs from other prescribers. But as of March 2013, only 40 percent of pharmacists and 30 percent of doctors in Minnesota were using it, Falkowski said.
Several doctors in the room said they were wary of additional regulations. But the doctors understand the problem, Sanford said.
“We feel responsible for making sure narcotics are used in an appropriate, safe way,” he said.