Hatboro-Horsham talks prescription drug abuse

By Jack Firneno
Wire Editor

On April 26, the Hatboro-Horsham police will host their fifth drug take-back event, where residents can safely discard unwanted prescription and over-the-counter drugs.

In the leadup to that event, police will install a permanent lock box outside their station so people can do the same any time they want.

It’s all in an effort to reduce the numbers for what Dr. Thomas McLellan, Ph.D. cited as the number one cause of accidental deaths in the country: prescription drug abuse.

“We prescribe 10 times the amount of pain medication than any other country,” said McLellan, the deputy director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy and principal developer of the widely used Addiction Severity Index and Treatment Services Review.

Prescribing opioids — “a prep school for heroin abuse,” as he called it — has been an ongoing trend since the mid-90s. By 2008, they were the most prescribed medication — and also by then, overdoses and physician arrests increased by 110 percent (200 percent today) and 25 percent, respectively.

“You wish your personal financial portfolio had the same rate of growth,” he said dryly.

McLellan brought decades of experience to a Be a Part of the Conversation meeting at the Horsham Township Community Center last Tuesday night.

A service of the Hatboro-Horsham School District, Be a Part of the Conversation is a program that allows students, parents, school officials and community members to help prevent substance abuse in children and teenagers.

The program achieves this by providing forums and opportunities for people to speak openly and honestly about substance abuse. And, that’s what the crowd came to do at this meeting, where they broke into discussion groups after McLellan’s speech.

During that presentation, McLellan talked about things that could change — and what could not.

“The genetic risk for addiction is the same as any other illness,” McLellan said.

It’s pure math, he explained, not ideology or politics: Any male, for instance, who experiments with substance abuse runs a 15 percent chance of becoming an addict.

The chances jump to 35 percent if he also has relatives with addictions, and up to 60 percent if he also has any history of mental health problems.

“These are predictable risk factors,” McLellan explained.

While those numbers are steadfast, however, others are malleable — like the amount of pain medication doctors prescribe.

Kim Rubenstein gave an example of such a number: When her then-19-year-old daughter had her wisdom teeth removed, her dentist gave her a large prescription of a semi-synthetic opioid.

“Why would you give a 19-year-old 25 vicodin?” asked the certified recovery specialist and program coordinator for Be a Part of the Conversation, rhetorically.

Fortunately, the college student, who was majoring in addiction psychology, wasn’t tempted to abuse her prescription. However, what led her daughter to that course of study, and Rubenstein’s own work with the community, was her son’s own struggle with addiction.

“It changed our lives. I had to get educated,” said Rubenstein. And, when she heard about how many other people struggled with the same problems, “It blew my mind.”

Rubenstein said her son is doing well with his recovery, and now through Be a Part of the Conversation, she has the chance to help others do the same.

The program is the result of a school district “working to think outside the box,” she explained. Through new programs this year, Hatboro-Horsham is focusing on more peer-to-peer counseling and discussions, which are proving to be more effective than just DARE program presentations and health class curriculum on substance abuse.

“We need sustainability, and we need to continue these efforts,” said Rubenstein.

For information, visit www.hatboro-horsham.org/conversation