INDIANAPOLIS - Indiana debuted its latest effort to combat its climbing prescription drug abuse rate -- a website detailing the symptoms exhibited by people hooked on pills -- as state officials warned Friday that the epidemic is one of the greatest threats to the state's children and young adults.
Attorney General Greg Zoeller, who announced the new website at the Indiana State Fair, called it a "one-stop shop" for information on the symptoms of abuse, such as sudden secrecy or withdrawal from friends and relatives. Such information can help Indiana residents determine if someone close to them is abusing painkillers, anti-anxiety medications or other prescription drugs and act to get them help, he said.
Prescription drugs were blamed for 718 overdose deaths in Indiana in 2011, a nearly 10 percent increase from 2010's 654 deaths.
Zoeller said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared two years ago that prescription drug overdose deaths have become a national epidemic and Indiana is part of that disturbing trend.
"When they claim it's an epidemic that's not just an adjective, that's an alarm system that says we've now reached a certain crisis stage and people have to take immediate steps," he said.
Zoeller was joined Friday by other members of the Indiana Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Task Force, a panel formed last year and composed of about 80 state officials, law enforcement officials, medical and pharmacy representatives. He said additional steps will be announced later this year intended to boost the public's understanding of the dangers of prescription drugs.
Indiana ranked fifth in the nation in 2010 and 2011 for nonmedical use of prescription pain relievers among people ages 12 and older, according to a federal survey released in January. It found a statewide rate of nearly 5.7 percent. Oregon ranked first in the nation with a rate of about 6.4 percent.
Marion County Public Health Department Director Virginia Caine said that in Indiana -- and nationwide-- the highest prescription drug abuse rate is among people ages 18 to 25.
"Unfortunately a lot of adolescents and adults have the perception that prescription drugs are not harmful because they come from doctors. This is a dangerous thought and it leads to unintended addictions and overdoses," Caine said.
The state Department of Health's chief medical officer, Joan Duwve, said Indiana's new website includes information that can help residents learn how to discuss the dangers of prescription drugs with their children and grandchildren.
She said the Indiana Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that one in five Indiana high school students had used controlled substances without a prescription in 2011, sometimes getting them at so-called "Pharm Parties" staged after they raid relatives' medicine cabinets and share those pills among themselves.
During this year's legislative session, lawmakers approved a measure directing the state's Medical Licensing Board to draft Indiana's first rules spelling out standards to prescribing painkillers. That effort is part of a state crackdown on so-called "pill mills" where doctors churn out prescriptions to addicted patients.
State Rep. Steve Davisson, R-Salem, said he and other lawmakers expect to introduce more legislation next session, including a bill that would develop a comprehensive take-back program for unused prescription medications.