JACKSON COUNTY - Fifty Americans die a day from prescription drug overdoses, and more than 6 million suffer from prescription drug abuse disorders.

In a recent report released by the Trust for America’s Health, West Virginia sits at the top of a not so distinguished list. West Virginia had the highest number of drug overdose deaths, at 28.9 per every 100,000 people - a 605 percent increase from 1999, when the rate was only 4.1 per every 100,000. North Dakota had the lowest rate at 3.4 per every 100,000 people. Rates are lowest in the Midwestern states.
Appalachia and the Southwest dominate the top 10 rankings. 1. West Virginia (28.9); 2. New Mexico (23.8); 3. Kentucky (23.6); 4. Nevada (20.7); 5. Oklahoma (19.4); 6. Arizona (17.5); 7. Missouri (17); 8. (tie) Tennessee and Utah (16.9); 10. Delaware (16.6).

According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC), nationally, sales of prescription painkillers per capita have quadrupled since 1999 - and the number of fatal poisonings due to prescription painkillers has also quadrupled. Enough prescription painkillers were prescribed in 2010 to medicate every American adult continually for a month.

Locally, Jackson County Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Director Steve McClure explained why the numbers are a bit skewed by circumstances of each call.

“We log each call that we get that are called in as an overdose. What makes the data hard to breakdown is the fact that there are people who overdose locally that will go out of county or even state for services due to embarrassment. Some don’t seek treatment for days, some are driven privately to the ER themselves and do not use our service. Some patients may overdose but it is not called in an overdose and the cause is determined later.”
McClure provided insight into some statistical information.
“We have seen the ratio of male to female virtually level out at about 50/50,” he explained. “We see recreational overdoses at a 2-to-1 versus over suicide and unknown causes. The average overdose age in Jackson County is around 30.”
The Jackson County Anti-Drug Coalition has aided in providing drop boxes at both Ravenswood and Ripley Sheriff offices to aid in getting outdated and unwanted prescription drugs off the street.
“It isn’t necessarily the impoverished that are contributing to high rates in prescription drug overdoses in Jackson County. There is no definitive line there. We have seen great success in youth numbers by educating parents about removing unused prescription drugs from the home and we are seeing an increase in parents who will not let their child take anything that is not prescribed to them,” said Coalition director Amy Haskins.
“We (county agencies) are collectively making an impact in our community.”
Key recommendations from the national report include:
• Educate the public to understand the risks of prescription drug use to avoid misuse in the first place;
• Ensure responsible prescribing practices, including increasing education of healthcare providers and prescribers to better understand how medications can be misused and to identify patients in need of treatment;
• Increase understanding about safe storage of medication and proper disposal of unused medications, such as through “take back” programs;
• Make sure patients do receive the pain and other medications they need, and that patients have access to safe and effective drugs;
• Improve, modernize and fully-fund Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs, so they are real-time, interstate and incorporated into Electronic Health Records, to quickly identify patients in need of treatment and connect them with appropriate care and identify doctor shoppers and problem prescribers;
• Make rescue medications more widely available by increasing access for at-risk individuals to naloxone and provide immunity for individuals and others seeking help; and
• Expand access to and availability of effective treatment options as a key component of any strategy to combat prescription drug abuse.
“We must use the best lessons we know from other public health and injury prevention success stories to work in partnership with clinical care, law enforcement, the business community, community-based organizations, and other partners to work together to curb this crisis,” said  Andrea Gielen, ScD, Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy.