13 Investigates: The Painkiller State - Alabamas13.com WVTM-TV Birmingham, AL

13 Investigates: The Painkiller State

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Alabama's 13 Special Projects Videographer takes video for Dr. Harrison talking to patient, James Parrish Alabama's 13 Special Projects Videographer takes video for Dr. Harrison talking to patient, James Parrish
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Fentora, Lorcet, Narco, Vicodin... these are just a few of the opiods or painkillers that Alabama doctors prescribe to their patients for pain. They prescribe so many - we're number one in the country for painkiller prescriptions.

According to the CDC, on average, every 100 Alabamians gets nearly 1.5 prescriptions for pain.

James Parrish was one of them. At one point he was afraid he was addicted.

Linda asks, “How many pills were you taking a day?” James answers, “Four or five.”

He turned to his physician, Dr. Jerry Harrison for help.

Parrish said, "It got so bad that I said well I got to have something else. So Dr. Harrison told me about the new stuff and I started on it and it's really helped me."

Family Medicine, Jerry Harrison, MD said, "Increasing pain medication can actually increase your pain"

Dr. Harrison's family medical practice is in the Winston County town of Haleyville.

He's listed as one of the top 5 Medicare Part D prescribers for painkillers but Dr. Harrison says that's because he and the other four serve large nursing home populations.

He's also the Chairman of the Alabama Medical Examiners Board which issues, revokes and reinstates medical licenses.

Dr. Harrison said, "On the Board of Medical examiners we've seen people writing in excess of 300 a month for one person."

Alabama's Department of Public Health said one way to combat excessive prescription writing was to create this database called the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program. The department tells us it has seen a decrease in prescription painkiller use in Alabama, but according to a Board of Medical Exaiminers Examinerson the numbers say otherwise.

In 2011 scripts written to patients were just over four million and in 2013 they were 4.6 million.

And Dr. Harrison says this about prescription overdose deaths.

Dr. Harrison said, "We have seen a decrease, even though we're still number one, we have seen a decrease in the number or prescription overdose deaths."

According to the Foundation for a Drug Free World, in some cases, the dangers of painkillers don't surface until it is too late.  In 2007, for example, abuse of the painkiller Fentanyl killed more than 1,000 people in the U.S.

And as for the PDMP program - implemented in 2006 - there's one major problem.

Alabama Department of Public Health, Nancy Bishop said, "They're not required to check. The dispensers as a pharmacist are required to report to the database but no one is required by law to check it."

A new rule, passed just last year by the Board of Examiners, forces doctors to register for the PDMP in order to renew their license to write narcotic prescriptions but that still did not require doctors to *check* the PDMP for patient prescription abuse. The CDC encourages such a rule or law and in its report said both New York and Tennessee were able to lower painkiller prescription rates by making that change. New York lowered its rates by 75%, Tennesseee by 36%.TennesseePsychologist, Ben Stillman, PsyD said, "Knowing the statistics, it doesn't feel very surprising for me. It's unfortunately very common."

Dr. Stillman is a clincial psychologist clinicalyson and Assciates who treats sAssociatesabuse. Stillman told me there may be no simplistic answer to why the state ranks number one and to tackling the prescription painkiller problem but patients can be vigilant in knowing when they have a problem.

Dr. Stillman said, "What we really have to sort of be mindful of is someone takes on that risk of taking that medication that they know what that means, that they can kind of monitor their symptoms, be aware of developing an intolerance to the drugs themselves."

According to Stillman patients should worry about addiction if:

     -taking higher doses than prescribed

     -going to multiple doctors to get a prescription

     -stealing prescriptions

     -"losing" prescriptions and requesting an additional prescription from your physician.

     -or buying prescription drugs from others because you do not have a prescription.

As for Parrish - that drug he switched to, Suboxon, Dr. Harrison said it's still considered a narcotic, but without the addictive qualities.

After two knee replacements, shoulder and back surgeries, Parrish said he's doing better.

Parrish said, "Oh yeah, I can do great now. I hunt, everyday business, cut grass. (chuckles)"

And also enjoying quality time with his grandkids.

If you believe you've become addicted, the experts recommend that you talk to your doctor about an alternative and/or how to end the medication.
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