RX for Preventing Prescription Drug Abuse
By Carol Milano

As abuse of Oxycontin grew, executives at Purdue Pharma, its manufacturer, looked for a national program to prevent prescription drug misuse. Amazed to discover that none existed, the Stamford CT-based firm has undertaken what it believes is the world’s only anti-prescription drug abuse campaign, "Painfully Obvious."

Pilot radio and television spots targeted at 14-to-17-year-olds (the fastest-growing segment among four million Americans abusing prescription drugs each month) ran in several East Coast cities, last fall. Vivid Public Service Announcements – describing explosive diarrhea, seizures and other consequences of drug misuse – aim to lure youngsters into discussing the problem. Information kits have gone to health education teachers and school nurses, churches, youth centers, and other places where teens congregate.

To educate parents, Purdue’s glossy, informative brochure explains the dangers clearly and lists several web sites for more information. Purdue is working to involve pharmacies in getting Painfully Obvious brochures to customers. So far, Safeway has distributed the literature to 1,000 of its stores; Value Drug, McKesson and Spartan Stores are also participating.

"We saw this as a good program we can use to make people more aware about their medications – what they are, how they’re used, what the implications are (in addition to the therapeutic use)," explains Don Clark, RPh, Division Vice President for Pharmacy, at Spartan Stores, Inc. in Grand Rapids, MI. "It’s a chance for us to provide education for our customers and their children." Spartan will send the brochures to their stores in late April, with an explanation of how to utilize them. "We expect them to be used as an educational piece, like monographs. The brochures may go out with the prescription, and/or be displayed in the literature section," Clark anticipates.

The successful pilot program is expanding into nine states where prescription drug abuse is a major problem: Maine, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Kentucky, Florida, South Carolina, Ohio, Massachusetts and West Virginia. "We’re meeting with legislators, government officials, preventive health staff, educators and other leaders, collaborating with the people who know each community best to insure that the information gets out there,"explains Pamela Bennett, RN, Purdue’s Director of Advocacy. "What Purdue is doing is one small part of the outreach. It will take parents talking to kids, law enforcement putting the bad guys in jail, and pharmacists identifying forged prescriptions. We want to be part of a team."

The National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators (NADDI) now invites Bennett to speak at its national and regional conferences. "We’re always trying to educate pharmacists, physicians and legislators," says Charles Cichon, NADDI president. "With Painfully Obvious, we have access to materials our members can incorporate into their training. The video is pretty cool for kids, if a little bit gross. Taking the whole message to kids can get their attention; that’s Purdue’s intention. Many of our members have the kids talking about it. Painfully Obvious is a well-produced program, and a very helpful, timely source for us."

Purdue is also providing tamper-proof pads to physicians and working to develop abuse-resistant medications. The company set up the first nationwide, independent research initiative to study the prevalence of abuse and diversion of controlled prescription medications. The budget for Painfully Obvious is under $1 million.

"I give Purdue a lot of credit. If you look at the whole prescription drug area and what’s being abused, Oxycontin got a lot of bad press, but several narcotics are more abused – Xanax, for example. I haven’t seen any other pharmaceutical company make any effort at the community level. The fact that they’ve taken the lead is pretty impressive," observes David Marley, Pharm. D, Executive Director of the North Carolina Pharmacists Recovery Network.

RESOURCES: At www.painfullyobvious.com, brochures and posters designed for use on a color printer can be downloaded. All the material in the Painfully Obvious campaign is non-branded.

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