Karina Barringa Albring
Vahrij Manoukian, Board President of New Hampshire Board of Pharmacy, narrates how he lost his son. “My son abused prescription drugs… that caused his death… Prescription drugs make people do stupid things.”
Chief Ken Meola from Keene Police Department affirms “prescription pain medication often ends in addiction to heroin.”
“Everybody is going to have a relative or somebody that they know that is dear to them that died from prescription drug overdose,” Dr. Elmer Dunbar, interventional pain physician and Keene State College alumnus, said. These were some statements that experts shared at the Summit on Prescription Drug Abuse that was held at the Redfern Art Center’s Alumni Recital Hall Monday, Sept. 24. The event was co-organized by the Health Science Department of KSC and Monadnock Voices for Prevention, a non-profit organization that works to raise awareness about substance abuse issues. Recent studies affirm New Hampshire has the second highest rate of prescription abuse among 18 to 25 year-olds in the country. According to Health Science Professor Marjorie Droppa, this fact indicates college-aged adults are at the highest risk for prescription drug abuse currently. “It’s also our country’s fastest growing drug problem.”
Droppa believes the issue is not prescription drug itself. “We found was that there was a real lack of awareness that there was a problem, and that was very surprising.”
KSC student Kimberly Feener said she didn’t “know what opioids are” and had no idea New Hampshire had a high rate of prescription drug abuse among youth. “I think it makes no sense. I like New Hampshire; it’s fun.”
Mimi Levesque said, “You can’t get a prescription drug without a prescription of a doctor, obviously; that is basically the common knowledge. That is all I know.”
She said she wouldn’t be interested in learning more about this issue.
On the other hand, some KSC students, faculty and alumni want the community to learn about it and have joined efforts in order to raise awareness and fight prescription drug abuse.
The summit is part of these efforts. “The Pitfalls of Prescribing Opioids and Other Medications: Prescribers Practices, Prescription and Disposal” included a keynote speech by Dr. Dunbar, who was the first KSC graduate student to attend medical school.
During his speech, Dr. Dunbar referred to prescription drug abuse as an “epidemic in America”. “Prescription drug is hitting home to everybody… It is something personal now.”
Dr. Dunbar recommended physicians to ask several specific questions to their patients before prescribing opioids, including family history or giving patients the necessary prescription without refills.
He then covered some good disposal practices for unused prescription medication. “You could flush them in the toilet; throw them away in zip lock bags.” The important thing is to prevent them from being misused. Following the night’s agenda, panelists explained the strategies that are being implemented in the state to reduce prescription drug abuse.
On June 12, 2012, a monitoring program for prescription drugs was signed in New Hampshire. That makes it the forty-ninth state to implement this system.
The monitoring program will allow physicians to have a report on what medication their patients have obtained, when they obtained it and who wrote the prescription.
According to Dr. Dunbar, law enforcement has had this system for a long time, as well as pharmacists. “They just never shared it with physicians… they were jeopardized.”
In KSC’s Center for Health and Wellness, prescription drugs are managed cautiously. Registered Nurse Debb Starratt said, “We don’t usually prescribe this type of medication. It is very seldom that we do. Most people that are on this type of medication is for a chronic illness.”
She says they give strong advice to students when they take these medications.
“We always tell people that there is a potential for abuse, to make sure that they keep it safe, because there is a potential for somebody to steal it. Specifically, we tell them they don’t want to give it to their friends, because it is desirable in the community.”
The college’s involvement in addressing prescription drug abuse started far before the summit. During Fall 2011, a group of Health Science students and nursing students worked on a research project that seek to diagnose the Monadnock Region consciousness towards the problem and developed strategies to fight it. The project started in two Health Science classes as semester-long assignments, except that the project did not end by December. Droppa, who taught the class and guided her students during the process, believes “the project grew life of itself.”
“Part of the class was not only to do the research. The college pushes to two things very importantly. One is that our undergraduate students experience research, and the second is that our students also then become part of civic engagement process of it,” Droppa explained.
In order to become involved, the students had to go back into the community where they had previously done research to present their findings to a variety of groups. “They had to come up with strategies to try to deal with these problems,” Droppa said. Some students will present the results of the study at the COPLAC (Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges) Regional Undergraduate Research Conference, which is coming up in October.
Moreover, strategies that the students suggested after their research helped develop a state plan to address prescription drug abuse that just passed the New Hampshire legislation.
According to Droppa, the conference “represents very well efforts that our students have made in this area and the community’s embracing of that”.
Karina Barriga Albring can be contacted at