The symposium, held at the Hal Rogers Forum and sponsored by UNITE, was in response to Dr. Sandlin’s death, who was allegedly gunned down by John C. Combs of Knott County after refusing to prescribe pain medication.
The forum was opened by remarks from Dr. Sandlin’s daughter, Danielle Sandlin, who has since her father’s death become an advocate against prescription drug abuse. Sandlin addressed the crowd of mostly medical professionals, telling them to “be strong” and “be safe.”
And it was with this notion of safety in the office that the symposium hinged, with several experts in the field of drug abuse presenting during the day, including Dr. Sharon Walsh, director of UK’s Center on Drug and Alcohol Research, who advocated for a wider use of prescription monitoring systems which can catalogue every instance when a prescription is written.
In Kentucky, the Kentucky All Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting system (KASPER) has been in use for some time, though according to some statistics it’s only used 26 percent of the time.
“It doesn’t help if physicians aren’t using them,” Dr. Walsh noted.
Other presenters during the day also made note of other ways physicians can discourage patients from needlessly requesting prescriptions for pain pills, ranging from something as simple as posting office regulations to requiring urine testing. New technologies were also noted, including abuse resistent medications that contain elements that block the medication’s effects if tampered with or formulations that fail to work if the pill is crushed or heated.
But to get to the root of the problem is to address addiction itself. Dr. Walsh noted several ways that drug addiction has already been addressed, including through the use of law enforcement, but said she believes one method can play the most important role.
“The strategy I like best is treatment,” she said, adding that methods of treatment such as opioid substitution, such as those prescribed at methadone clinics, can have a positive effect, as can group settings such as Narcotics Anonymous. But the main focus for any treatment should be good treatment.
“Good treatment produces good retention and outcomes,” she said.
But treating drug addiction is treating a lifelong problem, noted the next presenter, Dr. Carl Leukfeld, also with UK’s Center on Drug and Alcohol Research.
“Drug abuse is chronic and relapsing,” he said. “Once you’ve got it, you’ve always got it.”
But that doesn’t mean efforts to combat drug addiction are doomed to failure. Dr. Leukfeld noted programs such as drug courts that are having positive effects, and according to Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo, Saturday’s session was a step in the right direction.
Mongiardo, who had been friends with Dr. Sandlin, helped organize four drug abuse forums in Kentucky in the wake of Dr. Sandlin’s death that sought to find new ideas and current techniques that are working in an attempt to better understand how to tackle the drug problem. Saturday’s symposium was the culmination of those forums, and Mongiardo said it will take participation from everyone involved to help stem the tide.
“We can become the model for other states in fighting this prescription pill problem,” said Mongiardo. “This is a first step, but we’re going to have to do more and it’s going to have to include educating people from the classroom to the courtroom to the legislatures in both Frankfort and Washington. They need to hear from the communities on what works and where the money needs to go in order to get this epidemic under control.”
U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers, who formed Operation UNITE, added that the drug problem is not one of politics, but one of a common need.
“We’ve all witnessed the devastating effects of drug addiction and drug abuse,” said Rogers in a statement released last week. “We all share common goals that cross party lines that we need to find a common solution and it’s going to begin at the local level with local doctors, local pharmacists and law enforcement.”