State leaders are working to lower drug overdose rates, particularly by ending inappropriate usage of prescription drugs.
Not only are drug overdoses the highest cause of injury-related deaths in Wisconsin, but they are also killing more people than diseases like breast cancer, Department of Health Services Division of Public Health State Health Officer and Administrator Karen McKeown said.
McKeown said the Department of Health Services reviews and analyzes cause of death data, and said car crashes used to be the leading cause of injury-related deaths in Wisconsin. Drug poisoning, however, surpassed car accidents as the leading cause in 2008.
McKeown said drug-related deaths are still increasing today.
“We need to act quickly to reverse that trend,” McKeown said.
Opioid pain relievers contribute to 45 percent of overdose deaths, with heroin being the second highest overdose drug, McKeown said. People who are addicted to prescription drugs sometimes move on to heroin, she said, so preventing people from inappropriately using prescription drugs in the first place will help reduce heroin users as well.
McKeown explained altering prescribing practices entails working with providers who distribute pain medication to make sure they know how to treat pain as safely as possible. Ways to make this happen include making sure the right patient is picking up medication and ensuring patients aren’t already getting the same medication from another provider.
McKeown said the department is working with the Department of Safety and Professional Services on a program to help monitor prescription drug use in Wisconsin.
Department of Safety and Professional Services spokesperson Hannah Zillmer said they implemented a program called Wisconsin Prescription Drug Monitoring Problem, an online database holding all prescription drug data.
She said pharmacists must enter all their prescribing data into the program every seven days, including information such as type and amount of prescription, whom it is prescribed to and who it is prescribed by.
“It’s something every state in the U.S. has,” Zillmer said. “Our program is really unique because since we’ve implemented it in 2013, it’s shown to reduce ‘doctor shopping’ by an average of 25 percent every single month.”
Doctor shopping, Zillmer said, occurs when a patient visits four or more physicians or pharmacies within one calendar month, receiving prescriptions at all of them.
Zillmer said pharmacists can use the program to monitor their patients’ history to make sure they know how many prescriptions each patient has. Patients, she said, often forget their drug dosage, which can affect how much physicians prescribe them if they’re not aware of the patient’s history.
Several politicians throughout Wisconsin are also raising awareness about prescription drug abuse. Attorney General Brad Schimel is initiating a Prescription Drug Take-Back Day on Oct. 17, according to the Department of Justice website, encouraging people to dispose of their unused prescription drugs.
Gov. Scott Walker also recently signed into law Rep. John Nygren’s package of seven bills titled Heroin, Opiate Prevention and Education aimed at fighting the heroin and prescription drug epidemic in Wisconsin.
McKeown said though Wisconsin doesn’t have the worst overdose problem in the country, it is still a crisis. Wisconsin does, however, get attention nationally for being quick to respond to the issue, she said.
“There have been a lot of forums that Wisconsin has participated in at the national level to share what’s going on in our state, what are best practices and how we get on top of this,” McKeown said. “Wisconsin has been recognized as being at the forefront of that among the states that are really taking an early look.”