Pill Disposal, Closing Pill Mills Eyed in Fight Against Opioid Epidemic

Bend lawmaker/doctor Rep. Knute Buehler tells an OHSU-PSU School of Public Health forum that opioid abuse is the “biggest man-made epidemic in history.” He plans to float anti-opioid measures that have no fiscal impact during this legislative session.

Rep. Knute Buehler, R-Bend, an orthopedic surgeon, hopes to introduce a prescription drug take-back program funded by the pharmaceutical industry during this legislative session. Among his concerns -- young people who first encounter prescription drugs leftover in medicine cabinets.

He also hopes to clean up Oregon rules that prevent state officials from cracking down on what Dwight Holton, a former prosecutor and now CEO of the substance abuse and suicide prevention nonprofit Lines for Life, called “four to five pill mills operating in the state. They are drug dealers.”

Holton said 280 million pills are prescribed every year in Oregon -- that’s 70 pills for every man, woman and child in the state.

Fewer pills, better access to treatment, better disposal of pills and better education for providers and facilities are needed, Holton told the overflow crowd of mostly public health students and faculty last night.

Reimbursement structures that pay providers for only 15 minutes with each patient – not enough time to explore pain relief from physical therapy, yoga, acupuncture and other non-narcotic options – also are a problem.

“Every single overdose death is preventable,” Holton said.

Buehler believes profound changes in society in recent decades from technology to globalism left some people behind and vulnerable.

“Then an unholy alliance of medical providers and big PhRMA have preyed on these folks and convinced providers that it was safe to use narcotics to treat back pain and arthritis,” he said.

Buehler believes a poorly done study in the 1980s combined with “great marketing tactics” prompted ordinarily respected institutions such as the World Health Organization to promote the notion that people should have “freedom from pain.”

“People have pain. That’s part of the human condition,” said Buehler.

By the 1990s hospitals began to be rated on how well they controlled pain. Then in 2000 -- in a move Buehler called “the whooper “-- the Oregon Legislature passed a law

encouraging providers to give people more narcotics and even required training those providers so they would write more prescriptions for narcotics.

“This is a public health crisis. This is an epidemic,” he said. “More people in Oregon every year are dying from prescription narcotics than in car wrecks.”

Jan can be reached at [email protected].

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