Allen County, along with the rest of Indiana, has a dangerous problem with prescription drugs.
But even though members of the Fort Wayne-Allen County Board of Health probably knew this before Monday night’s meeting, seeing the numbers compiled and put into a presentation caused obvious concern.
Indiana ranks among the top states for prescribing painkillers, not necessarily a position in which it would want to find itself.
And Allen County is believed to have beaten the national average for fatal drug overdoses in 2013, with an estimated 17 deaths per 100,000 residents.
That’s an increase of more than 55 percent from 2008 to 2013, according to the presentation.
The total equals the number of motor vehicle accident deaths, which saw only an 11 percent increase over the past six years.
While many of those deaths are accidental, the percentage of intentional overdose increases as the victims get older.
An estimated 96 percent of the deaths caused by drug overdose are believed to be accidental among victims ages 25 to 34. But if the victims are between the ages of 75 to 85, the percentage of intentional overdose is believed to be nearly 100 percent, according to the report.
Most of those drug overdoses come from the use of opioid medications such as Oxycodone, methadone and Fentanyl.
Dr. Brianna Serbus, a third-year family medicine resident, told the board that the number of deaths including the use of Benzodiazepines, such as Xanax and Valium, have also increased in recent years, as have deaths including the use of the anticonvulsant drug Lyrica.
She suggested to the board there should be legal ramifications for those who share their prescription medications.
Another recommendation made in the report included having patients sign a pledge not to doctor shop or to seek additional narcotic medications elsewhere, Serbus said.
If a patient breaks that pledge, then the original prescribing doctor can no longer prescribe similar medications, she said.
The board also heard about the state’s INSPECT program, which allows doctors to work with a database that shows what patients are taking what medication.
According to the program’s website, the state’s prescription drug monitoring program – known as INSPECT – was created and funded in its present form in early 2004. The program compiles information about controlled substance prescriptions for use by doctors and law enforcement.
Dr. Gregory Eigner, the associate director of the Fort Wayne Medical Education Program, told the board that the number of patients who divert their prescriptions to others is shocking.
Dr. Deborah McMahan, Allen County health commissioner, expressed concern about the growing use of heroin within the community, and said the largest number of users is between ages 18 and 24.
They snort it instead of inject it, which increases its addictive potential, she said.
The presentation on prescription drug abuse came after another presentation by the Lutheran Foundation on area mental and behavioral health.
While they focused on technically different areas, many of the board members drew a connection between the two problems.
“We’re not doing a good job of diagnosing and treating mental health issues in our children,” McMahan said. “We’re not going to like where we’re going to be in five years.”
“It’s very concerning,” McMahan said after the meeting, calling the problem a new epidemic.
She stressed the need to continue to build new and strong partnerships in the community to tackle the issue.
“Now that we know it is an issue in our community,” she said.