Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

The Washington State Department of Health has released new numbers about the prescription drug abuse epidemic.scaledrugs The numbers are startling:

The number of people dying from an overdose of prescription pain medication is growing in Washington. From 2003 to 2008, the state death rate increased 90 percent. And in 2007, 447 people died; in 2008 it was 505.

For a while, it's been understood that drug overdoses in general are killing more people than traffic accidents. But now, according to DOH, the trend appears to be worsening:

From 1995 to 2008, Washington had 17 times more deaths from accidental overdose involving prescription pain medications. These types of deaths have surpassed automobile crashes as the leading cause of injury death in the state for residents ages 35 to 54.

DOH produced a terrific brochure to help you use prescription medications safely. It also includes a description of the signs of an overdose,"[A]bnormal vital signs, sleepiness or confusion, and shortness of breath," and what to do if you think you are witnessing an overdose.

Last year, Attorney General McKenna convened the Prescription Drug Advisory Group. This group, made up of health professionals and law-enforcement, is tasked with determining how the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) may assist in three specific challenges:

  • Implementing a monitoring program (PMP).  In 2008, PMP was suspended in part due to a lack of resources.  We are working to identify a funding source for both implementation and ongoing operations.
  • Washington pharmacies have experienced a string of robberies which pose an unacceptable safety risk to both small, independent pharmacies and chain drug stores.  The group will develop a set of proposed public law changes to address this problem.
  • Unused medications in the home provide an easy source for many seeking to abuse prescription drugs.  We will develop a prescription drug disposal program that is endorsed by law enforcement, prescribers, dispensers, manufacturers and solid waste professionals.

If you would like to learn more about the prescription drug threat, please visit our RxIQ Web page.

-Dan Sytman-