March 19, 2014 —
MONTICELLO, NY — Sullivan County has the higher percentage of people with prescriptions for Oxycodone than any other county in the state. That was a revelation disclosed by District Attorney Jim Farrell at a meeting of the county public safety committee on March 13.
Farrell said, “We have a problem.” He said 399 per 1,000 residents in 2010 had a prescription for Oxycodone. A bit later he added, “This is a per capita rate, so this means per 1,000 people, 399 have a prescription for Oxycodone in Sullivan County. That’s got to disturb people.”
That followed a 20-minute presentation by Carlos Holden, medical director of the emergency department of Catskill Regional Medical Center, on the issue of prescription drug abuse on the national and local level. He said, “Number one in terms of the drug-related hospitalization rate is Bronx, number two is Richmond County (Staten Island), and number three is Sullivan.”
Hal Smith, the administrator of the county jail, said part of the problem is doctors too easily prescribing the drugs. He said a couple of years ago he went to the emergency room because of pain, which on a scale of one to 10 he described as a two. He said the emergency room doctor wanted to immediately start him on a morphine drip, which he declined.
Holden replied that 10 or 15 years ago, doctors were criticized for not adequately treating pain; now, perhaps some doctors were going too far in the other direction. He cautioned, however, against going on a “witch hunt” against specific physicians. He said some physicians specialize in pain management and legitimately prescribe drugs like Oxycodone.
The discussion also touched on the heroin problem, which has become epidemic in Sullivan County and the nation as a whole.
Holden said, “Sometimes we worry that if we really tighten down on prescription meds we’ll drive people to heroin, I say let’s drive them to heroin. If the police pull someone over, and they’ve got a bottle of prescription meds with their name on it, you can’t prosecute for that. On the other hand, if you get pulled over and you’ve got a bunch of heroin in your car, guess what: the heroin is going away.”
Farrell asked “But is there any difference really?
Holden responded, “Medically, no.”
Holden also warned of the appearance in the market of a new drug called Zohydro, which according to news reports is five to 10 times stronger than other opioids. The drug was approved last fall by the U.S. Food and Drug administration despite an 11 to two recommendation against approval from a panel of experts who were concerned about the potential for addiction and abuse.
Still, at the end of the presentation Holden offered a hopeful thought. He said, “Prevention works, people recover and treatment is effective.”
That was underscored by Joe Todora, director of Sullivan County Community Services, who said, “Addiction is a disease; it knows no income or racial boundaries, but it is treatable, and we know it works.”