As this weekend’s Revere Beach Memorial approaches, local elected officials and anti-addition advocates are using the spotlight to focus in on a different kind of fight against drug addiction.
The current struggle, they say, is not as much on the streets with hard drugs, but rather in the medicine cabinet and doctor’s office with prescription pills – potent painkillers that are every bit as addictive and destructive as heroin or cocaine.
“We’re very concerned about the rates of recreational prescription drug use in our nation and in our own community,” said Katie Sugarman of RevereCARES. “Data collected from youth in Revere indicates that a large number of kids think that prescription medications are easy to access. Many youth also do not perceive a great deal of risk in trying one or two medications that have not been prescribed to them.”
That cavalier attitude about prescription drugs has led to many a downfall in Revere and surrounding communities. Many believe that if it’s a legitimate medication sold in a pharmacy, it couldn’t be as damaging as a street drug. Meanwhile, others take the medications as part of rehabilitation from injuries, and then find themselves addicted – eventually leading them to the street for hard drugs like heroin that are cheaper.
State Sen. Anthony Petruccelli (D-Eastie) said the changing face of addiction in the area doesn’t surprise him, as he has witnessed the transformation over the past few years.
“Maybe a few years ago I was surprised about this, but this issue has been growing the last three to six years,” he said. “It’s really an epidemic and it is everywhere. Addiction doesn’t care where you live, your education or how much you make. With these prescription medications, addition has become the guy who got hurt at work just as much as it is the teen-agers on the corner.”
Petruccelli has championed and recently won a battle in this fight, he said. That victory comes with the newly signed law that requires a Physician Prescription Monitoring Registry.
He said that several years ago, a law was passed that asked physicians to voluntarily join the prescription monitoring program to help end the over-prescription of pain medication and the practice of “doctor shopping” by those who use and sell pills illegally.
“The goal of that was to have a system when people were doctor shopping to easily identify it and red flag it, but the problem was that not enough doctors signed up,” he said. “Now, we’ve taken that voluntary system and required that the top 30 percent of physicians who are proving 90 percent of all controlled substances be registered in the program. We believe this is the way to attack the doctor shopping and the over-prescribing of these very potent medications that end up many times on the street.”
Gov. Deval Patrick signed the bill into law about three weeks ago, and Petruccelli said that it came pretty quietly, but he expects it to make a huge splash in combatting the pill problem locally.
“To combat this beforehand, that’s really where this war will be won, getting to people before the pills get to them,” he said.
Sugarman said the monitoring is a great step, but said that there are many things that residents can to do to curb the problem as well, including cleaning out old pill bottles from their medicine cabinets.
“We all need to pay closer attention to what we have in our own medicine cabinets – both prescription and over-the-counter,” she said. “We need to secure these medications in our homes, make sure that they are being taken as directed, and dispose of medications that are no longer needed or have expired. The medication disposal program at the Revere Police Department offers community members a safe way of disposing of medications without harming the environment. This is an important step we can all take today in order to limit access to medications that could be misused or abused.”
The Revere Beach Memorial will get underway around 6 p.m. this Sunday, Sept. 23rd, with registration. The actual, solemn remembrance will begin at 7 p.m.