Prescription drug abuse—something a whole industry of monitoring and law enforcement is growing up around—is a public health problem first, according to the state substance abuse officials responsible for treatment and prevention. That said, these same directors—the single state agencies (SSAs) with authority over the Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment block grant—also want to participate in the prescription drug abuse conversation, explains Rob Morrison, executive director of the National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors (NASADAD).
Based on an inquiry of its entire membership, NASADAD staff found that single state agencies consider prescription drug misuse and abuse very important—for some, the most important—issue they face. The inquiry took place last year and was released in fall of 2012.
Forty-seven states responded to the inquiry, which yielded the following results:
- Prescription drugs are the most important issue affecting states (23%), very important (58%), or important/moderately important (19%)
- Of the states surveyed,
- 62% currently have a task force addressing prescription drugs
- 15% had a task force on prescription drugs that completed its work
- 68% passed legislation in the past 5 years addressing prescription drug misuse and abuse
- 83% have undertaken education efforts about prescription drug abuse for the general public
- Among states with prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs),
- 54% have some single state agency (SSA) involvement with the PDMP
- 43% have no SSA involvement with the PDMP
- 64% find PDMP data very useful or useful
- 13% describe the data as somewhat useful in addressing prescription drug abuse issues
There are continued challenges to SSAs trying to address prescription drug misuse and abuse “related to data, funding constraints, collaboration, workforce development, public education, and ease of access to pills,” according to the report. It found that “although PDMPs and the data they provide are useful to SSAs, the level of oversight, access, and involvement of SSAs continues to be limited.”
Great emphasis has been placed on addressing the utility of PDMPs, but it’s important for the SSAs, as the public health and treatment experts, to be involved. SSAs would like to have more oversight, access, and involvement with PDMPs, according to the report.
In only three states—Vermont, Maine, and Maryland—is the PDMP operated under the purview of the SSA, and the agency could use the information to help get people who are misusing or abusing medications into appropriate treatment. “We have a steep growth curve here,” says Henrick Harwood, research director of NASADAD. “We need to increase the education so prescribers can help people get into treatment.”
The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) has been very helpful in issuing a strategy and structure around which to build a public health approach to prescription drug abuse, says NASADAD’s Mr. Morrison.
Connection to MAT
There is a clear connection between prescription opioid abuse and medication-assisted treatment (MAT). Many patients newly admitted to treatment are dependent on opioids—either because they started taking them for pain, then began misusing them, or abused them from the beginning. When they try to stop, they go into withdrawal. So some states have increased training for treatment staff, in particular on prescription drug abuse and on MAT.
And there are particular challenges for states in addressing prescription drug abuse. For example, PDMP data aren’t always of good quality or easy to utilize, according to the report. And substance use disorder treatment providers don’t always have a way to access it. There is also a dearth of financial resources, with lack of adequate funding for MAT and lack of funding for naloxone overdose kits, a promising public health response to overdoses, according to the report. And there are problems with states’ proposing to restrict MAT funding.
The NASADAD report is available at: http://nasadad.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/NASADAD-Report-SSAs-and-Prescription-Drug-Misuse-and-Abuse-09.20121.pdf