prescription drugs

Lots of news organizations, including this one, are ticking off the year's top 10 stories. I'd like to run through some of Rhode Island's bottom health stories, meaning the ones least likely to have appeared on radar screens - but which should have. And don't worry: there's some good news in here too!

In no particular order:

Rhode Island Hospital and the entire Lifespan network have announced new guidelines for prescribing painkillers in their emergency rooms. ER doctors are trying to address the growing problem of prescription drug abuse and addiction.

State lawmakers are looking at ways to strengthen Rhode Island’s prescription drug monitoring program. They say there are too many gaps in the current system that allow people to abuse prescription drugs.

John Bender / RIPR

College students have long been known to experiment with drinking when they’re blowing off steam, and even use illegal drugs like marijuana.

But a growing number of college students are now turning to prescription drugs to get ahead academically.

The drugs, like Adderall, are used legally to treat conditions like Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder, and they’re increasingly common on college campuses around the country.

Kristin Gourlay / RIPR

California-based Prime Healthcare Services won approval earlier this week to buy Woonsocket’s Landmark Medical Center. But the approval came with conditions. One is that the company keep Rhode Island regulators abreast of a federal investigation it’s under for allegedly over-billing Medicare. Another is that Prime invest in primary care and in preventing hospital re-admissions. The Department of Health expressed some concern about Prime’s practices at other hospitals, but department head Michael Fine said the terms of the deal to acquire Landmark should allay those concerns.

That's the question vexing public health directors - and anyone with a loved one who's experienced one -  everywhere. That includes Rhode Island, where health department chief Dr. Michael Fine named combating prescription drug overdose deaths one of his top priorities.

A new report finds that while deaths from prescription drug overdose have doubled in Rhode Island, the state has implemented many of the measures experts say can prevent those deaths.

US Marine Corps / via Wikimedia Commons

For Rhode Islanders between 15 and 44 years old, the leading cause of death is accidental drug overdose, usually involving prescription painkillers.  State health leaders are calling it an epidemic. There’s growing evidence that tracking the number of pills doctors prescribe to potential abusers might ease the problem. But Rhode Island’s fledgling prescription drug monitoring program is just getting started.

The dark side of opiates

Recently, I reported on Rhode Island's fledgling prescription drug monitoring program (listen to that story here). It's a program that's supposed to spot troubling trends in prescription drug misuse. And as you might know, there's plenty of trouble to spot in Rhode Island, where prescription drug overdose death rates have soared along with rates of addiction to narcotic painkillers.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Opioids are narcotic painkillers, and they include popular drugs with brand names like OxyContin, Vicodin, and Demerol. Heroin is another. And while the former have eased the pain of many, all of these drugs are potential killers. They're incredibly addictive. And prescription drug overdose deaths, according to what many health care providers and experts tell me, have reached epidemic status in Rhode Island.

Rhode Island collected more than 2300  pounds of pharmaceuticals this past Saturday during a statewide prescription drug take-back event.

The Attorney General’s office says that beats the record of all six previous take-back events in Rhode Island.

Rhode Islanders were encouraged to bring unused or expired prescription medications to several locations throughout Rhode Island for authorities to dispose of safely.

In the past year and a half, according to Rhode Island Department of Health records, seven physicians have been disciplined--some even forced to stop practicing medicine--for improperly prescribing narcotics.

Rhode Island Department of Health

Rhode Island Department of Health director Dr. Michael Fine says Rhode Island must address prescription drug abuse. Fine’s comments come as part of a list of priorities he’s shared with lawmakers.

Topping the list: ending deaths from prescription drug overdoses and colorectal cancer, as well as curbing the transmission of new HIV cases in Rhode Island. Fine also wants to reduce the number of premature births and C-section deliveries.