OGDEN -- Weber County ranks fourth-worst in the state when it comes to prescription drug abuse and, according to a local doctor, health care workers are part of the problem.
Dr. Timothy Houden, an Ogden anesthesiologist and pain-management physician, said doctors and other health care workers who prescribe medication need to do a better job when dispensing powerful pain killers that may lead to addiction, abuse and death.
Speaking at the 67th annual Ogden Surgical Medical Society conference on Wednesday, Houden said when it comes to opioids, it's best to start low and go slow.
"When someone goes in for surgery, they're usually given an opioid for pain. They go home and maybe take two pills the first night and one the second and then where do the rest of the pills go? In the cupboard," he said. "Easy access for teenagers or neighbors who might want to steal them. In most cases the fewer the pills, the better. I would rather call in a refill than give the patient more pills than he needs."
Houden said approximately six Utahns die each week from prescription overdoses. In 2009, he said 37 people just in Weber County lost their lives.
"Many people just don't know what to do with the left-over pills. They don't know where to discard them so they hang on to them, even years after they've expired. Most police departments will take extra pills and dispose of them," Houden said.
People with chronic pain run the risk of addiction. Because they build up a tolerance, they take more to help the pain, but more is not better, Houden said. In fact, it can be very dangerous.
"If a person has chronic pain, it's most likely not going to go away, so we need to teach them ways to live with that pain," Houden said. "We need to teach them alternative ways to manage their pain."
Houden said lower back pain and headaches are the most common chronic pain complaints. He said physical therapy, certain blocking agents injected into the spinal cord, various exercises and even different medications can help manage the pain.
Houden said those most at risk of addiction include people younger than 45, males, those with a family history of alcohol and drug abuse, smokers, people with little family support and sexually abused women.
"There are ways to track who is giving what to your patients," Houden said. "You can also perform urine tests and interview family members as ways of assessing a patient's risk of addiction and abuse."
Houden also warned health care providers to keep a very careful record of what they dispense to their patients. He said that's one of the best ways not to lose your medical license and land yourself behind bars.
Houden also said it's important to educate patients. Anyone taking prescription pain medicine should never mix it with other medicine, should never adjust their own dose and should never take it with other depressants, such as sleep aids, or anti-anxiety medication. Don't ever take someone else's medication, always keep medication locked in a safe place and always dispose of any unused or expired pills.