Experts agree awareness is key in fight against prescription drug abuse


MISSOULA, Mont. - Over the last week NBC Montana and the Missoulian have been addressing Montana's problem with prescription drugs.

As the Prescription for Addiction series wraps up, we have thoughts from experts on solutions.

"It's probably the deadliest medicine out there right now," said Community Medical Center Dr. Marc Mentel.

There's no doubt prescription drug abuse is a problem in the state. The pills aimed to help, kill more Montanans every year than car accidents.

"These drugs should be saving lives, not ending them," said Montana Governor Steve Bullock.

The solution may not be clear.

"The solution is out there somewhere," said Missoula Police Detective Dean Chrestenson. "I don't know what it is. I'll be honest."

But doctors, law enforcement, and politicians agree we've got to start somewhere and that start is awareness and prevention.

"It's part of community awareness it part of getting the education out," said Mentel.

"It's something that we have to get our hands around," Bullock said.

"It's going to be baby steps," said Chrestenson.

For Missoula Police Detective Chrestenson, the man dedicated full-time to prescription drug diversion one step is getting excess meds out of homes.

"If you have those lying around your home they're so easily accessible to people who aren't prescribed those medications," said Chrestenson.

That's why the police department has a prescription drug drop box. 24 hours a day, seven days a week folks can get rid of unused medications. No questions asked. It's located just inside the back door of the police department.

For Doctor Mentel at Community Medical Center one step is the new Community Safe Prescriber initiative. Mentel's asking emergency rooms and medical offices to put up a ‘Community Safe' sticker on doors and windows to send a message to patients.

"These are the prescribers you can trust who will try to keep them safe," said Mentel. "We also hope it will deter these who are looking for just a continuation of their meds or to abuse."

But it doesn't stop there. The idea is also for doctors to monitor patients. Mentel says he's started to do a urine screen of all patients.

"Everyone across the board gets screened because as I've found you can't tell who is abusing, who is not, who is getting into trouble. By monitoring them closely I can steer it off before it becomes a big problem."

And for Montana Governor Steve Bullock it's the state's drug registry program; an online database for physicians to check their patient's medication history.

"The registry actually went live last November, and since then we've had literally tens of thousands of searches," said Bullock.

While they'll all agree there's still a ways to go, they know it starts with working together to raise awareness.

"If we can collaborate of the community resources together and focus on one solid mission I think we can actually make a lot of headway," said Mentel.

"We need to educate people and we need to make sure doctors and pharmacists are using the prescription drug registry and we need to continue to get rid of any supplies that people hang on to," Bullock said.

"Obviously law enforcement, medical people, therapists, counselors…all of that is key to combating the problem," said Chrestenson.

For resources or to catch up on the Prescription for Addiction series click here.