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Four counties take bold steps to address prescription drug misuse

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Gwen SigningSARASOTA – (Jan. 31, 2011) – Today, Monday, Jan. 31, in the presence of many witnesses, Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) from twelve participating hospitals and four health departments from Charlotte, DeSoto, Manatee and Sarasota counties gathered to make a public proclamation of their commitment to support a multi-faceted campaign to address Responsible Prescriptions Use at a media event at Twin Lakes Park Auditorium in Sarasota.

This leadership group of hospitals and health departments are taking a collaborative approach to address prescription drug misuse. The goal is to ensure that health care providers and dispensers of prescription medication have the tools and education necessary to prescribe responsibly and connect patients to community resources that may be needed. Their intent is not to create negative outcomes for the legitimate patient, such as the under-treatment of his or her pain.

“We recognize that our access to physicians and patients positions us as unique partners in addressing this problem,” says Tom Rice, CEO of Fawcett Memorial Hospital in Port Charlotte. “But we also recognize the work that law enforcement, community coalitions, state and local governments and schools have been doing for years. As healthcare providers, we have a role to play – and we want to play that role well – but we also want to work in concert with other efforts, and develop stronger linkages and partnerships.”

The most significant part of the group’s plan has to do with educating our medical community about this issue. They are developing a unique, locally-relevant educational course that will be offered throughout the region in the spring. This course will provide our physicians and other medical professionals with evidenced-based recommendations for safe prescribing and tools for identifying prescription drug misuse, and will serve as an opportunity to create linkages with local addictions resources as well as local law enforcement. “Our local physicians need up-to date medical strategies to be able to effectively respond to this epidemic of pill diversion and abuse,” says Mary Ruiz, President/CEO of Manatee Glens.

Met Life is the sponsor of the physician education forums that are being planned. Other strategies include educating health department and hospital patients about safe storage and disposal of prescription drugs, and disseminating data about the prescription drug epidemic in our region.

Prescription drug abuse has been described as the most threatening substance abuse issue in the State of Florida, responsible for seven Floridian deaths per day. Regionally, prescription drug deaths are higher than ever before, with over 80 percent of drug-related deaths associated with prescription drug misuse.

Since 2007, all substance abuse related Emergency Room (ER) admissions in the four-county region have increased, with opioid-related admissions increasing 25 percent.

In 2009, drugs caused 249 deaths – and prescription drugs were specifically identified as a cause of death 86 percent of the time in this four-county region. (213 instances)

“Prescription drug abuse is not just on the rise – the spikes we’re seeing in our hospital and across the nation are dramatic, indiscriminate and deeply disturbing. The problem crosses all ages and socioeconomic levels – from soccer moms and working professionals to high school honor students and home-bound elderly – and now, sadly, it’s impacting even newborn babies,” says Gwen MacKenzie, CEO for Sarasota Memorial Health Care System.

“Our hope is that the rate of misuse will be curbed in those counties already experiencing a serious problem, and prevented from spreading to communities where the issue is not currently as serious,” says Jennifer Bencie, M.D., administrator for the Manatee County Health Department. By addressing this issue together, they have the opportunity to learn from each other, share tools and best practices and raise awareness about this issue in the region. Their plan is likely to evolve and expand throughout 2011 as our hospitals and health departments continue to convene around this issue.

The Community Health Improvement Partnership (CHIP) has spearheaded this four-county multi-healthcare organization agreement through its Health Provocateur Project, which includes CEOs of every hospital and health department in these counties. Since 2005, CHIP has convened these regional healthcare leaders, facilitating dialogue and urging this unique public-private partnership to serve as an innovative model for improving population health in the region.

For information about the SafeRx campaign, visit

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