The problem is not all states have them. About 40 states do and several others are enacting legislation to establish a PDMP. “Florida didn’t have a system in place and it became a shopping stop for folks from Oklahoma, West Virginia and Ohio,” explains McDonough. “In Florida alone, the death rate from prescription drug abuse had accelerated to seven per day. That’s just the citizens from Florida. What we don’t know is how many other people also died from the drugs they obtained from Florida.” Florida continues the battle to implement a PDMP. Since PDMP technology is relatively new, they will continue to improve. “The technology is still early,” says McDonough. “It will get better and it will be more beneficial for doctors to avail themselves of the systems. You could recognize an addiction problem and you will have the treatment opportunity. If you don’t get compliance, law enforcement can work quickly. I’d like to see the cooperation of medical boards increasing training and constraints of abuse.”
A third component to tackling prescription drug abuse is law enforcement, specifically collaborations. Many states, including Ohio, Alaska and Connecticut, have statewide prescription drug abuse task forces comprised of law enforcement, public health, mental health and substance abuse professionals. Other jurisdictions have county task forces, such as Hillsborough (Fla.), Hancock (Ohio) and San Diego (Calif.). Law enforcement is working together and doing it well, Oren explains. BSO provides services to 17 districts and many areas, including cities like Fort Lauderdale, have their own police departments.
“We work hand in hand with local police departments and the DEA. Since the problem is so big, we get tips all the time about high drug activity in certain areas, specifically in regard to pain clinics. All the agencies work together regardless of jurisdiction. We have no boundaries when we’re working on cleaning up the streets. Awareness is helping relationships form.”
BSO instituted a special unit in an area that had the most pain clinics in Broward County — the Oakland Park District Special Investigations Unit. “Since this team has been in place the number (of pain clinics) has decreased and I think there is only a handful now,” says Oren.
“It’s not a one-jurisdiction problem,” states Oren. “It’s not just an urban problem. It’s not just seen in the suburbs. You can’t fix it without working together. We teach people this is a real problem and these are the dangers. We make sure people are on the same page with the same goals. People are dying.”
McDonough agrees collaborations are essential. He recommends these tips for success. “Work together, observe patterns and (agencies should) avail themselves of the drug monitoring system,” explains McDonough. “If there is an active case, gain access to prescription records and see if they are reasonable or out of line. Working in a coordinated way and maintaining respectful of privacy laws, law enforcement can do a lot to [curtail] what has become an epidemic.”
Another important asset within law enforcement is school resource officers. “SROs are great because they could more quickly identify if there is a problem and they can deal with the kids directly,” says Oren. “It’s helpful. You want to recognize it before it becomes a big problem.” Oren was quick to state it’s important to make sure school staff is aware of the problem of prescription drug abuse. “Not every school and not every police department or jurisdiction has an SRO,” she says. “It’s equally important that administrators and teachers know what to look for and recognize identifying factors.”
Law enforcement and other professionals have an invested interest in combating prescription drug abuse. People are becoming addicted and dying at an alarming rate. Children are more likely to pop a pill they got from their mom’s medicine cabinet than to shoot up heroin, not knowing that the substance used is the same. Doctors, unscrupulous pill mill clinics and a variety of individuals all contribute to the problem. In response, community members, health care professionals, legislators and law enforcement personnel combat this epidemic with education, Take-Back events, PDMPs and task forces. What’s a perfect collaboration? “A prescription drug monitoring system, one where law enforcement is respectful of it and it’s not a fishing expedition, cooperation with federal, state and local law enforcement officials, healthcare professions, including Medicaid, good observation and integration of effort of all these people,” suggests McDonough.
“It is a problem and law enforcement is aware of it,” Oren concludes. “We’re doing everything we can to combat the problem. One of the biggest things is you cannot arrest your way out of a problem like this. Addicts need to be identified and treated. Parents need to be aware of the problem. Take-Back programs need to get the drugs out of the homes.”