RALEIGH — Prescription drug abuse is reaching epidemic proportions in North Carolina, according to state Attorney General Roy Cooper.
Prescription drug overdose is the second most common cause of accidental death in this state. Motor vehicle crashes are the top killer.
Speaking to a group of physicians Friday, Cooper said there has been a 400 percent increase in hospital admissions for treatment of prescription drug abuse over the past decade.
“As busy as your practices are, I encourage you to have serious conversations with your patients about these powerful drugs,” Cooper said. “I don’t think people understand the seriousness of this.”
Cooper delivered his early afternoon message to about 75 physicians who were attending the annual meeting of the N.C. Medical Society.
“Recognize the signs of addiction,” he said. “Talk with your patients about it.”
Medical providers should counsel parents to be on their guard against children having access to prescription medications and abusing them, Cooper cautioned, and be aware of employees who have easy access to prescription drugs at work.
He encouraged the physicians to sign up for the state’s controlled substance reporting system to help authorities identify people who see multiple doctors to obtain duplicate prescriptions. North Carolina’s program is voluntary, but several states – New York, Tennessee and Kentucky – have mandatory reporting by physicians and pharmacists to a state database.
“The numbers right now aren’t good,” Cooper said about the percentage of health care providers across the state who have signed up for the program. “... up to 30 percent (of physicians are signed on), but only half use it,” he said. “With pharmacists, it’s even lower.”
Cooper said the State Bureau of Investigation has employed 10 agents to work statewide on prescription abuse crimes such as “doctor shopping,” or forging and tampering with prescriptions.
“But that’s not the best way to fight the problem. That’s the end game,” he said. “The best way is prevention.”
That prevention includes a law passed in March that requires photo identification to purchase prescribed narcotics. Also, Operation Medicine Drop, where people can drop off old medications for safe disposal, now has 30 programs across the state.
To reach the younger crowd, the state sponsored a competition in which high school students made videos to convince their peers to stay away from prescription drugs.
“We need to educate parents, grandparents and young people about the dangers,” he said. “Many times they just don’t know.”