How Can Texting Help In The Fight Against Prescription Drug Abuse?
Texting is quickly replacing phone calls. Now the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has decided to turn the texting craze into the latest weapon in the DEA’s fight against prescription drug abuse.
The administration has developed a new initiative called TIP411 which launched in late February in the state of Georgia. Anyone in the public who observes suspicious behavior, especially those who work in pharmacies, can now text a message to TIP411 (847-411) along with the phrase PILLTIP to alert DEA agents.
The Need For Better Prescription Drug Monitoring
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that prescription drugs are largely behind a tripling of overdose rates in the nation since 1990. In 2008 more Americans died from taking prescription pain relievers (usually opioids) than those who died because of heroin or cocaine use. The glut of prescription drugs, and opioid pain relievers in particular, has almost certainly exacerbated the problem. According to the CDC since 1999 there has been a 300 percent rise in the sale of these potent drugs. Having so many pills out there among the public makes it all-too-easy for abuse to take hold.
Most often, people obtain the drugs simply by raiding the family medicine shelf. Others buy them from friends who had a legitimate prescription from their doctor. The 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that just 2.3 percent of prescription drug abusers get their drugs from a stranger or the local drug dealer.
Eventually legitimate prescriptions run out and addicts must find another source. Sometimes prescriptions are forged, complete with fake callback numbers. Other times they doctor shop, which entails making appointments with several physicians and describing symptoms at each office in search of multiple prescriptions for painkillers. When all of these sources fail users frequently turn to heroin, which is in the same drug family as prescription opioids.
In conjunction with the launch of the text tip line, the DEA also mailed out printed materials to 1,200 Atlanta pharmacies. The materials tell pharmacy employees and pharmacists what signs to look for and how to use the tip line.
Pharmacists and employees are told to be aware of how often people refill their prescriptions. They are also warned to be suspicious when a person is holding a prescription for both a depressant and for a stimulant. Handwriting that’s too legible is another red flag.
Can The Text Line Be Fraudulently Used To Obtain Drugs?
There have been instances when users call the pharmacy impersonating a physician. However, opioids require the doctor to give his or her personal drug number proving they are licensed to dispense drugs. And some drugs cannot be prescribed over the phone. Attempts to phone in prescriptions without a proper drug number, or asking for written-prescription-only meds, should sound a warning bell.
In some cases an hourly employee at the pharmacy may be driving a luxury vehicle or taking exotic vacations. This should spark interest. On the other hand, pharmacists themselves have been known to hand out drugs in exchange for sexual favors. The DEA hopes that inviting hens to keep an eye on the hen house will yield some useful information.
While Georgia is one of the first areas in the country to implement TIP411, a similar program is being tested in Philadelphia. Wherever it is used, DEA agents say they don’t expect to get a large number of tips, but they’re hopeful that what does come through will prove fruitful.