FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) - State leaders are hoping a new billboard will surprise motorists around Fort Wayne. The billboard says "every 25 minutes someone dies from a prescription drug overdoes in the U.S." The billboard is expected to be up by the end of September.
Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller announced the billboard this week. According to his office, the billboard will be displayed along the side of U.S. 24, east of S.R. 930. The billboard will be displayed in other Indiana cities across the state as well.
"Prescription drug overdoses and the non-prescription use of medication is an epidemic that continues o have a stronghold in our communities, Zoeller, who heads a newly created Prescription Drug Abuse Task Force, said in a press release this week. "It's critical everyone work together to break away from this trend. I believe any solutions will require a comprehensive approach that includes education, training, treatment, tracking and enforcement."
The task force is made up of state leaders, along with police and health officials. It's designed to create rules and regulations to stop prescription drug abuse.
"Any time you can get out there and that type of stuff to the public, make them more aware of the problem, that's a great thing," Steve Ribolla, a group supervisor at the Drug Enforcement Administration's Fort Wayne office, said about the idea of using a billboard to get the message out. "It's very similar to the meth ads that are out their on television now."
Zoeller told NewsChannel 15 the billboard gives Hoosiers a wake-up call.
According to Dr. Deb McMahan, the director of the Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health, there were 29 deaths caused by a drug overdose in Allen County during 2011. She added 25 of those were caused by multiple drugs or prescription drugs.
McMahan explained the problem began in the 1990s. During that time, patients were complaining of pain, and the medical community was being asked to help patients cope with it. From there, doctors began prescribing more pain medications.
"The number of prescriptions being written for pain medications is just really increasing," McMahan, who plans to be a part of the task force, said. "As that happens, so is the abuse."
As the task force looks at ways to reduce abuse and misuse, McMahan shared her ideas on how to curb the problem.
"We need to develop a community standard for prescribing medications," she said. "Including the types of meds we prescribe, and the number of pills you're given."
Zoeller also said some patients are given too much medication.
"Over prescribing comes from the regular family physician," he said. Zoeller recognized some patients have an overwhelming amount of pain, but in some cases, patients do not need as much pain relief. "You get a tooth ache, and they prescribe 50 oxycodone. They over prescribe what ends up being in your medicine cabinet, so the first thing we have to do is ratchet down."
That leftover medicine is what law enforcement looks for.
The announcement of the new billboards comes on the heels of "Wake Up to Medicine Abuse Week," which began Sunday and runs through Saturday. This national effort encourages parents to take action by, first, educating their children about the dangers of abusing prescription medicines, and second, safely disposing of unused medications.
Hoosiers can safely turn-in unwanted medication Saturday during National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Indiana State Police post in Fort Wayne."
A similar event took place in April. On that day, 276 tons of medication. During the last four nationwide events, a 775 tons were collected and destroyed.
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