Harrison School of Pharmacy, ADECA combat illicit, prescription drug abuse

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The Harrison School of Pharmacy at Auburn University is helping the state of Alabama fight a growing national problem–the abuse of prescribed and illicit drugs.

With a grant from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program, the school teamed up with the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, or ADECA, to offer a conference for those individuals who would typically have the first opportunity to intervene in drug abuse matters–law enforcement, first responders and health care professionals.

After four days, nearly 1,000 pharmacists, physicians, nurses, EMTs, first responders, educators and members of law enforcement had learned more about their role in combatting the abuse problem.

"The response was fantastic," said Haley Phillippe, associate clinical professor with the Harrison School of Pharmacy. "Working with ADECA was great, especially connecting us to law enforcement to share knowledge with them and learn about what they see on a day-to-day basis. Several attendees thanked us for putting this together because they never would have learned about these things otherwise."

Conference presenters included Auburn pharmacy faculty and representatives from the Alabama Department of Public Health, Alabama State Board of Pharmacy, Alabama District Attorney's Association and law enforcement members from drug task forces around the state.
Alabama has one of the highest rates of prescription pain medications sold per 10,000 residents. The problem reached the point that Gov. Robert Bentley recently signed an executive order establishing a council to find ways to bring the state's opioid addiction problem under control.

In 2015, more than 700 Alabamians died of opioid overdoses and 5.8 million opioid prescriptions were written in Alabama.

The rise of opioid prescriptions has been seen in part due to an increased recognition of the impact of pain within the state and region. In 2011, at least 100 million adult Americans had common chronic pain conditions. Pain is a significant public health problem, which is estimated to cost society $560-$635 billion annually.

While the use of these medications provides necessary pain relief for many residents, the illegal use has reached near epidemic levels in Alabama.

"This isn't a problem we can arrest our way out of," said Brian Forster of the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs' Law Enforcement and Traffic Safety Division. "Doctors, nurses, mental health professionals and law enforcement have to communicate effectively with one another if we're going to find real solutions to this problem."

"It is important that we work together to identify community-based solutions for patients and their families," added Karen Marlowe, assistant dean with the Harrison School of Pharmacy. "Solutions need to balance patient treatment for pain management and the need to prevent misuse of opioids."

Of all drugs leading to overdoses, only 17 percent were prescribed to the individual by a doctor with the most common source of the drugs being the family medicine cabinet. Additionally, only 10 percent of those with addictions in Alabama receive treatment.

"Addiction is a disease and needs to be treated as such," said Brent Fox, associate professor with the Harrison School of Pharmacy and one of the program leaders. "With more education about the problems through programs such as this, it will allow those at the front line to be better equipped to identify the issue and get assistance."

Those involved with the planning and execution of the conference are already seeing the benefits.

"Not everyone has access to the kind of information the doctors and pharmacists have and this was great for all of us to start really talking to each other," said Alabama State Trooper Jay Penton. "If we can help them to spot potential abuse, then it's a good first step."

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Auburn University is a nationally ranked land grant institution recognized for its commitment to world-class scholarship, interdisciplinary research with an elite, top-tier Carnegie R1 classification, life-changing outreach with Carnegie’s Community Engagement designation and an undergraduate education experience second to none. Auburn is home to more than 30,000 students, and its faculty and research partners collaborate to develop and deliver meaningful scholarship, science and technology-based advancements that meet pressing regional, national and global needs. Auburn’s commitment to active student engagement, professional success and public/private partnership drives a growing reputation for outreach and extension that delivers broad economic, health and societal impact.