SALT LAKE CITY -- Unintentional overdoses of prescription pain medication are on the rise and continue to cause more deaths than all other drugs combined.
In an effort to increase awareness of the proper use, storage and disposal of these drugs, a statewide campaign was launched in the Capitol board room Tuesday by Gov. Gary R. Herbert and state health and law enforcement officials.
Herbert called the illegal use of prescription pain medications an epidemic in the state. "For the safety of our families, our communities, our state, I urge all Utahns to use, store and dispose of all prescription medications only as directed," Herbert said in a news release.
In 2000, 56 people died of unintentional overdoses of prescription pain medication. In 2009, there were 265 such deaths in Utah.
"Use Only As Directed" was a campaign slogan launched by the Utah Department of Health in 2008. Funding for the campaign ended in 2009. However, because of the ongoing problem with prescription pain medication abuse and misuse, the Utah Pharmaceutical Drug Crime Project was awarded $500,000 and asked if they could use the slogan and website to keep the campaign alive.
"We want to do all we can to assure all Utah residents understand the importance of safe use of prescription pain medications," said Dr. Robert Rolfs, UDOH state epidemiologist.
McKay-Dee Hospital pharmacist Dustin Waters said misuse of prescription pain medication is one reason for unintentional overdoses.
"If a person is using an opioid on a regular basis, they can build up a tolerance. Pretty soon they think they need more medicine for their pain," Waters said. "They figure if one pill is good, two pills are better. That's a very dangerous assumption."
Waters said it's important to take pain medication only as prescribed by a physician. In addition, the medication should only be used for its intended purpose and then disposed of properly.
"If you break your arm, for instance, and you're given a prescription pain medication, use it for the acute pain and then discard it," he said. "Don't keep it lying around the house."
According to www.medicationdisposal.utah.gov, up to 17 percent of prescribed medication goes unused. If not disposed of, drugs lying around the house can increase the risk of abuse and poisonings.
Teenagers now abuse prescription drugs more than any illegal drug, except for marijuana, according to the website. The majority of teens who abuse these drugs are obtaining them for free, usually from friends or relatives without their knowledge.
"Don't go waving them around in front of other people," said Cindee Paulsen, evidence custodian for the South Ogden Police Department. "People will steal them. These medications are meant only for you. Don't share them with anyone and don't announce that you're taking them."
Waters said unused medication should not be flushed down the toilet or put down a garbage disposal.
"There's a theoretical concern that if enough medication is flushed down the toilet or down the drain it can contaminate the water supply," Waters said. "If you can't get the medicine to a place where it can be disposed of, grind it up and put it in a bag with kitty litter or coffee grounds and throw it away."