Barack Obama

Orange County's Opioid Abuse Problem Reflects National Trend

"He became addicted so quickly. These opioids are so strong and powerful."

Jodi Barber's son died of a prescription drug overdose when he was 19 years old.
She found Vicodin and anti-depressants that belonged to Jarrod. She later learned he was also addicted to heroin; a cheaper high than pain pills.

This all too common story emerged Tuesday as President Barack Obama said the nation has a growing opioid abuse problem, and more people are being killed from opioid overdoses than from traffic accidents.

"He became addicted so quickly. These opioids are so strong and powerful," Barber said.

Dr. Padma Gulur of UC Irvine Medical Center said Orange County in particular has a huge prescription drug problem.

"One person every other day dies of an accidental overdose from a this county," Gulur said.

A new bill introduced Monday would force physicians to check a database any time they are prescribing drugs like Oxycontin to a patient for the first time. SB 482 would require they also have to check the database, called California's Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System (CURES), annually if treatment continues. More than 20 other states already require the use of a prescription tracking database.

A 2014 study found that the overall rate of drug and alcohol overdose deathes in Orange County increased by 51 percent between 2000 and 2012. Prescription medications were used most frequently in those overdoses, and the bulk of those drugs were opioid pain medications.

Gulur heads a coalition hoping to hold doctors accountable, yet still serve patients who need pain relief.

"We prescribe these medications but don't have adequate safe guards in place to ensure that excess meds don't flood our community," Gulur said.

The Laguna Niguel mother gets a text message or a phone call every day asking for guidance.

She said she was paying close attention to what President Obama was saying at Tuesday's drug abuse summit.

She believes federal funding should be used to extend and create more recovery programs.

"If I was able to get Jarrod into a good rehab," Barber said. "It has to be long term [treatment] and that's really important — 30 days is not enough."

Obama also said the one of the issues to tackle is looking at the prescription drug abuse as a "public health problem and not just a criminal problem."

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