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Prescription drug abuse a growing problem here and everywhere

North Dakota, and all of Ward County along with it, seems to be following national trends related to prescription drug abuse.

6/12/13 (Wed)

Kenmare Drug pharmacy counter 


By Caroline Downs

North Dakota, and all of Ward County along with it, seems to be following national trends related to prescription drug abuse.

Unfortunately, the numbers of people misusing prescription drugs across the country, across the state and across the county are only increasing.

The Kenmare Safe Communities Coalition discussed the topic at its May meeting with Dawn Reule and Leana Leavitt of the Rural Crime & Justice Center at Minot State University. “Prescription drugs are somewhat overwhelming because there’s so much out there today,” Reule said. “There’s a misconception that it must be okay, it must be safe to take, because it’s FDA-approved.”

The problems begin when the drugs are taken too often, at a higher dosage level than prescribed, or mixed with alcohol. “The side effects can become dangerous,” said Reule. “These are now the most abused category of drugs, second only to marijuana.”

She explained that North Dakota, like many states, has an operational prescription drug monitoring program, but people still get their hands on the medications through illegal and Internet sales, “doctor shopping” tactics and forged prescriptions.

“We’ve got more people dying
from the things we think are safe and okay
than we do from illegal narcotics.”

Reule described three categories of prescription drugs. Depressants such as Xanax, Valium and Ambien are desirable, according to Reule, along with stimulants such as Ritalin and Adderall, both of which are frequently prescribed for individuals with Attention Deficit Disorder.

The opiates, or narcotics, include popular painkillers such as Oxycontin, Percocet and Vicodin. “There a high market for these, these days,” she said. “These are our most abused prescription drug. They can be habit-forming and have life-threatening effects. What we’re seeing on the streets here now sells for about $1 per milligram.”

In fact, the death rate from accidental overdoses of narcotic painkillers has surpassed the death rate from overdoses of heroin and cocaine, combined. “We’ve got more people dying from the things we think are safe and okay than we do from illegal narcotics,” Reule said.

Kenmare Safe Communities members agreed the problem was significant. “If left unchecked, this wrecks families,” said Pastor John Fetterhoff of Faith Baptist Church. “The more you can get people educated, the better.”

Holly Brekhus of First District Health Unit asked about kids getting access to these types of drugs. Reule ticked off a list of sources. “They can be given by a friend or a family member,” she said. “Most often, you know somebody who knows somebody. They can also be stolen from a friend or family member, simply taken out of a medicine cabinet or bought off the Internet.”

One issue with prescription drugs is that much standardized drug-testing doesn’t show results for prescribed drugs. “If you suspect someone is using them, you may not be able to prove it,” said Leavitt.

Members of the Kenmare Safe Communities group talked about scheduling drug education sessions for adults, especially teachers, and kids in the community.

“I would take the information presented today to the youth group in our church,” said Pastor Fetterhoff. “The best defense we have is to be involved.”

Important that you
properly dispose of
prescription drugs
One of the most important responses individuals and communities can make to prescription drug abuse is to dispose of all unused or expired medications properly.

Reule and Leavitt reviewed directions for appropriate disposal of unwanted drugs as established by the North Dakota Department of Health. The NDDOH emphasizes that in order to keep water supplies clean, unwanted medications should not be flushed or poured down sink drains.

One method of disposal involves removing the medications from their containers and mixing them with some type of undesirable substance like kitty litter or used coffee grounds. Personal information should be concealed or removed from the containers by scratching it off or covering it with black permanent marker.

Then, the medication mixture and the empty containers should be wrapped in newspaper to help conceal them from children and pets. Those bundles may be placed in the trash.

Even better, used prescription medicines should be returned to pharmacies or agencies participating in “take-back” programs.

Kim Essler, owner of Kenmare Drug, said the store has a TakeAway receptacle for certain medications, such as antibiotics, blood pressure pills and thyroid drugs.

“It cannot be controlled substances,” he said. “We were told anything that’s a controlled substance should be handled by a law enforcement agency.”

He noted that individuals can locate a Drug Take Back Program site online at by clicking on the “Get Local” tab, then choosing North Dakota.

According to the website, unwanted medications including pills, tablets, capsules, inhalers, nebulizer solutions and liquid medicines, whether prescription or over-the-counter, may be deposited in secure containers located in various police departments and sheriff’s offices around the state. Those located closest to Kenmare are the Minot Police Department and the Mountrail County Sheriff’s Office/Stanley Police Department.

Essler said the topic of prescription drug abuse has raised red flags among pharmacists around the state and the country. “It’s a nationwide concern,” he said. “I think compared to illicit drug abuse, [use of prescription drugs] has become more popular. Because these are legitimate prescription drugs, people don’t view it as something like cocaine or heroin addictions.”

He mentioned sobering facts heard at a recent pharmacy convention. “Deaths in the United States from opiate-related overdoses have now surpassed deaths from highway accidents,” he said, “and the U.S. totals for people ages 20 to 60 are off the charts compared to almost any other country in the world.”

June 13th meeting
The next meeting of the Kenmare Safe Communities organization will be held Thursday, June 13, beginning at 11 am at the Kenmare One Stop Burger Shop.

All community and area residents are welcome to attend the meeting.

For further information about the Kenmare Safe Communities coalition, contact Melissa Burud at 701-385-4328 or Holly Brekhus at 701-852-1376.

See more from the local law enforcement's perspective
on prescription drug abuse in next week's issue . . . .