Overprescribing Opioids in Sonoma County

According to the most recent statistics, one in four residents within Sonoma County, California were prescribed an opioid in 2014.

Reports also show that approximately 126,000 people within this county were prescribed opioids during this year, and that 53 percent of those individuals were prescribed one opioid medication, while 25 percent were prescribed four or more.

The rising opioid addiction problem that is occurring is not just specific to Sonoma County as it is occurring within all parts of the country. However, some of the numbers coming out of this area of the United States are quite alarming. For example, reports found that 71 percent of those who were prescribed opioids within 2014 got them from one prescriber, while there were 524 cases of patients who doctor shopped for their opioids. On the whole, fatal overdoses lead to over 47,000 deaths in 2014, and overdoses on popular opioid medications including Percocet, Vicodin, or OxyContin made up six out of 10 of those fatal overdoses within the United States.

Sadly, while many adolescents, adults, and elderly residents of Sonoma County and surrounding areas grapple with the many challenges that come along with prescription opioid abuse, so, too, are newborn babies.

Based on data collected between 2012 and 2014, each year 25 babies are being born addicted to substances like prescription painkillers because their mothers struggled with chemical dependency while they were pregnant. Within the past decade, these numbers have almost tripled, as the average rate of babies born in the area who were addicted to drugs was nine per year. In an effort to help decrease the number of women birthing babies addicted to drugs, The Drug Free Babies program was put into action six years ago. Through this program, roughly about 30 Sonoma County women are served each year, helping them to obtain the treatment they need to overcome their dependency in a manner that is safe for both them and their babies.

Similar to helping the expectant mother community in Sonoma County, the Partnership HealthPlan of California (a non-profit managed-care business that administers the county’s Medi-Cal program) was put into place to help reduce the overuse of opioid-based painkillers on the whole. This plan has led to a decrease in the use of long-acting opioid painkillers by 40 percent within the area thus far.

In another effort to help bring down rates of prescription opioid abuse within Sonoma County, the drugstore giant Walgreens has now installed drop-off kiosks throughout the state where individuals who have an unwanted supply of prescription painkillers and other medications can safely dispose of them. For those who have been overprescribed opioids, this is an excellent solution to helping to not only keep them safe, but to also keep these medications from getting into the hands of someone who will abuse them and/or sell them to pregnant women, or others.

As efforts are made to help decrease the amount of prescribing of prescription opioids, such as working to make it legally mandatory for prescribers to use a database prior to providing patients with painkillers, it is imperative that other programming such as the Drug Free Babies program and the Partnership HealthPlan of California continue to work towards helping those who are in need, as well as local retailers like Walgreens who can help provide places to effectively dispose of medications so that communities such as Sonoma County can work towards being healthier and safer overall.