GUEST COLUMN: How prescription drug abuse affects your community

An epidemic is something that is extremely prevalent and widespread, according to Webster’s Dictionary.

Over the past decade, Northern Michigan has seen what can only be called an epidemic of prescription drug abuse with triple the number of people seeking treatment for prescription drug abuse, triple the number of babies born addicted to prescription drugs in the U.S. and a significant increase in the number of deaths by overdose and people seeking help at emergency rooms.

By Kimberly Livingston
Guest Columnist

Homes and pharmacies in Northern Michigan have been broken into by people looking for medications, not money, and police officers are going out on more calls related to prescription drug abuse than ever in the past. Unfortunately, some of those thefts are coming from within our own family. Of teens who are abusing prescription drugs, 70 percent of them are getting them from friends and family.

Every day, 2,500 teenagers nationwide use a prescription drug to get high for the first time.

In Mecosta County, prescription drugs account for the second-most commonly abused category of drugs other than alcohol, ahead of marijuana, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and other drugs.

What’s being done? The Michigan Automated Prescription drug System (MAPS) is the prescription monitoring program for the State of Michigan. Prescription monitoring programs are used to identify and prevent drug diversion at the prescriber, pharmacy and patient levels by collecting Schedule 2-5 controlled substance prescriptions dispensed by pharmacies and practitioners. This data enables practitioners to determine if patients are receiving controlled substances from other providers and to assist in the prevention of prescription drug abuse.

What can I do in my own home?

The good news is that there are steps everyone can take to help prevent prescription drug abuse, such as:

  • Safeguard all drugs at home: Monitor quantities and control access. Don’t keep medication in obvious locations like bathrooms or kitchen cabinets. Take note of how many pills are in a bottle or pill packet, and keep track of refills. Lock medications up. Discount stores have metal cash boxes that lock which can be used to lock up medications;
  • Set clear rules: Make sure teens in the home understand the rules about drug use, including not sharing medicine and always following the medical provider’s advice and dosages. Sharing prescription medication is illegal and people caught sharing can be charged with a crime. People who share medications can also be held liable for any problems such as overdose or death;
  • Properly dispose of drugs: It is legal to throw medications in the garbage or flush them down the toilet, but it’s not recommended due to contamination of our water. Medication disposal sites are located at all law enforcement agencies throughout Mecosta and Osceola counties and are available during lobby hours. Blacken out your personal information with a marker and drop the bottles into the disposal boxes. Our law enforcement works with the DEA to properly dispose of all medications;
  • Get friends and family involved: Ask friends and family to safeguard their prescription drugs as well. We child-proof our homes when our children are little, we need to do the same when they’re teenagers too. I trust my own teens, however, I don’t always know all of their friends and even good kids can make mistakes; and
  • Talk about the dangers: Talk to teens and young adults about the dangers of prescription and over-the-counter drugs. These are powerful drugs that, when abused, can be just as dangerous as street drugs. Some good websites include “Drug Free Northern Michigan”, WebMD, “National Institute on Drug Abuse” and “Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.”

Kimberly Livingston is prevention coordinator at Ten Sixteen Recovery Network, located at 21061 19 Mile Road, Big Rapids. Contact her at (231) 527-2000 or

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