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Campaign aims to reduce amount of prescription meds in Haywood

fr painmedsThere’s a good amount of opioids in Haywood County, more than twice the national average. And apparently there’s a good number of people overdosing on the prescription medications as well. 


During 2012, 14 people overdosed on prescription pain medication. Over the course of the following year, about 700 morphine mg equivalents of pharmaceuticals with names like OxyContin, Percocet, Percodan and Demerol were prescribed in Haywood County. 

“That’s enough Vicodin to take it around the clock for every person, each month,” said Dr. Don Teater, a staff physician with Meridian Behavioral Health. “So, we have a lot of meds going on.”

Teater is concerned about the prescription drug problem in the region. It’s an issue that’s particularly haunting in Appalachia and Western North Carolina.

“It’s worse in Western North Carolina than anywhere else in the state,” Teater said. “For some reason it tends to be a little worse in the rural and mountainous areas.”

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Working with the National Safety Council, Teater is helping to roll out a campaign to counter the proliferation of high-powered prescription pain medication and its potential consequences. The doctor laid out the campaign for community stakeholders — law enforcement, medical professionals, educators — recently in Waynesville. 

“The goal is to reduce the number of prescriptions,” Teater explained. “The number of overdose deaths is directly related to the number of prescriptions being written.”

A component of the National Safety Council campaign — a pilot project with the potential to be expanded nationwide — involves visiting doctors and dentists. Teater said medical professionals should be made aware that prescribing opioids is rarely the best option, that pain relief may be better realized with Ibuprofen and Tylenol.

The doctor holds up a pack of over-the-counter pain pills. He explains to the group how he plans to distribute the medication to doctors and encourage them to use them instead of prescriptions.

“Instead of handing them a Percocet prescription, they can hand them a freebie. Doctors love to do that,” Teater said. 

Dr. Barton Paschal, an oncologist based in Clyde, liked the concept of educating medical professionals about the over-reliance on prescription opioids to treat pain. He called it a “great idea” and likened it to the pharmaceutical industry’s long-ago blitz on the medical community, sending out armies of sales reps with suitcases full of this, that and the other to take the pain away.

“It’s basically the polar opposite of Purdue Parma coming in with this pseudo-science,” Paschal said. “I think this is a good way to approach it — a marketing approach — to counter what we’ve heard.”

Another component of the campaign employs social marketing and attempts to connect a negative connotation with prescription drug abuse. Like regular marketing, social marketing attempts to impact a person on a deeper-than-mental level.

“Instead of just understanding it in your brain you actually believe it in your heart, that this behavior is better for you,” Teater said. “We want medical providers and dental providers, as well as the public to realize that.”

To help with the social marketing campaign, Teater hopes to involve community organizations, student athletes, churches, local governments and law enforcement.

“I think the Boy Scouts would eat this stuff up if it was brought to them,” Paschal said. “And the same goes for churches, they could teach this in Sunday school. The same could be said for public schools.”

The local campaign will begin in earnest when a number of committees are formed and begin meeting this fall, tasked with missions like determining how best to engage the business community, or how to get people to sign a pledge recognizing the prescription drug issue and vowing to steer clear of opioids. By November, the Haywood medical community will begin getting visits because that’s where the root of this problem ultimately lies. Prescription pills are not typically sought out in the back alleys of the black market. They are sanctioned in the sanctuary of a doctor’s office.

“The medical community, us doctors, are a big part of the problem,” Teater told the group of community stakeholders assembled for the soft launch of the safety council’s campaign.

Later, the doctor elaborated. He explained that medical professionals are not intentionally prescribing harmful, addictive medication to their patients. They are genuinely trying to ease their patients’ pain. 

“Twenty years ago we were told by medical professionals and pharmaceutical companies, ‘Oh, pain is a big problem, you’re not treating it well,’” Teater said. “That’s been a hard mindset to change. And part of that is you’re in the room with the patient and they’re hurting and they’re saying Ibuprofen isn’t working.”

That mindset — that opioids should be considered go-to meds for pain management — is exactly what the National Safety Council campaign is aiming to reverse in Haywood County. 

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