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Addressing Prescription Pain Medication Abuse and Misuse

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Read the Sarasota Herald-Tribune article here.


Approximately seven people die each day from prescription drug abuse in Florida. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

For every one overdose death, nine others are admitted for addictions treatment, 35 wind up in the emergency room and nearly 500 others are using the prescription drugs for non-medical reasons. Most of them – roughly 96 percent – have obtained the drugs from legitimate prescriptions written by doctors for friends, family or the users themselves.

That was one of the pointed messages delivered today to a group of more than 75 physicians, pharmacists, nurses and mental health counselors who gathered at Sarasota Memorial Hospital for the first in a series of medical education sessions designed to address the growing problem of prescription drug abuse and misuse in Sarasota, Charlotte, Manatee and DeSoto counties.

“The key component of the solution to this problem is education,” said retired anesthesiologist Kevin Zacharoff, MD, medical director of and a national leader in the field of safe prescription drug use. “It’s going to take everyone working together.”

Although pill mills are partly to blame, health professionals who prescribe narcotics need to take a more vigilant role in assessing, monitoring and educating patients about the safe use and disposal of prescription pain killers, Zacharoff said.

While pain specialists are trained to monitor patients for signs of addiction to opiates like oxycodone, more than half of the U.S. prescriptions for these drugs are written by primary care doctors and dentists, Zacharoff said. He pointed out that providers monitor and educate patients about the proper use of anticoagulation medication like Coumadin, but routinely prescribe pain medications with little if any monitoring.

During Tuesday’s educational session, Zacharoff provided medical professionals with evidenced-based tools and resources for safe prescribing, including universal precautions for pain management, monitoring patients on opioid therapy, identifying potentially deviant drug-related behavior and protecting the clinical practice. A 30-minute panel discussion with Sarasota County Sheriff's Office Detective Don Kennard, Pharmaceutical Diversion Unit, and Phillip "PJ" Brooks, vice president of outpatient and youth services at First Step Addiction Recovery Programs followed.

In parting, the panelists urged healthcare providers to be frontline advocates and counsel patients on proper use and disposal. The group’s intent was not to undertreat pain or create negative outcomes for the legitimate patient.  

“There’s a perception that they’re safe because it comes from a prescription, and the prescription comes from a health care provider,” Zacharoff said. “The reality is that 96 percent of the time, these nonmedical users are getting the drugs from friends and family, or they had it prescribed to themselves.”

The first of seven presentations – “Addressing Prescription Pain Medication Abuse and Misuse – A Framework for Safe Prescribing” – was sponsored by the Safe Rx Campaign – a coalition of area hospitals that includes Sarasota Memorial Health Care System, departments of health and the Community Health Improvement Project – to help staunch the overflow of illicit painkillers in Southwest Florida.

Schedule of Medical Education Sessions:
Pre-registration is required for those who plan to attend. Register at or by calling 941.275.9139.

• Tuesday, April 26, Noon-1:30 p.m.
Sarasota Memorial Hospital Auditorium
1700 Tamiami Trail, Sarasota

• Tuesday, April 26, 6:30-8 p.m.
Michaels on East Ballroom
1212 S. East Ave., Sarasota
• Wednesday, April 27, Noon-1:30 p.m.
Lakewood Ranch Medical Center, Conference Room #1
8330 Lakewood Ranch Blvd, Lakewood Ranch
• Wednesday, April 27, 6:30-8 p.m.
Mattison’s Riverside Ballroom
1200 First Ave. W., Bradenton
• Thursday, April 28, Noon-1:30 p.m.
Fawcett Memorial Hospital h2u Center (Promenades Mall)
3280 Tamiami Trail, Port Charlotte
• Thursday, April 28, 6:30-8 p.m.
Charlotte Harbor Yacht Club Ballroom
4400 Lister St., Port Charlotte
• Friday, April 29, Noon-1:30 p.m.
Blake Medical Center , Dolphin/Pelican Room
2020 59th St. W., Bradenton


Media Contact: Kim Savage, 941-917-6271

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