February 10, 2010

More than 160 Kentucky community leaders gathered to discuss combining resources to help fight prescription drug abuse during the recent workshop, "The Different Faces of Prescription Drug Abuse."

The University of Kentucky College of Agriculture's School of Human Environmental Sciences, UK Cooperative Extension Service, UK College of Pharmacy, Kentucky Division of Behavioral Health, the Lexington Mayor's Alliance on Substance Abuse and the Fayette County Board of the Kentucky Agency for Substance Abuse Policy sponsored the workshop.

In a 2006 study published by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Kentucky led the nation in the percentage of state residents who reported using psychotherapeutic drugs, prescription pain relievers and prescription tranquilizers for nonmedical reasons within the past year. The state ranked No. 4 in the nation in the percentage of individuals who reported using prescription stimulants for nonmedical reasons in the past year.

"Prescription drug abuse is such a complex problem," said Debbie Murray, associate director of UK's Health Education through Extension Leadership. "Extension agents need to know what other community organizations and local health agencies are doing, so they can find ways to collaborate with them to help educate community members about the dangers of prescription drug abuse."

During the two-day workshop, participants learned about the severity of the state's drug problem, successful community programs, resources available through state and local agencies, and were able to network with potential state and local partners.

"The workshop is really about addressing needs at a grassroots level," said Jeanne Davis, UK Cooperative Extension regional coordinator for Western Kentucky. "Hopefully this workshop provides participants with educational materials to address prescription drug abuse problems in their communities and develop alliances and coalitions with other community partners."

Results from a survey of extension agents conducted by HEEL brought the need to the forefront and prompted the idea for the workshop. In the survey, the agents identified prescription drug abuse as one of the most troubling issues facing their communities.

"It's so important for our extension agents to raise awareness among family and community members about this issue and provide them with skills and education that they can use to identify instances of abuse, address these situations and provide support to those who are recovering," said Ann Vail, director of the UK School of Human Environmental Sciences and assistant director of family and consumer sciences extension.

In addition to extension agents, workshop participants included representatives from state and local government agencies, healthcare services, schools and universities.

"It's very important for pharmacists to get involved with community education because it can be a tremendous asset in drug abuse prevention," said Mike Burleson, executive director of the Kentucky Board of Pharmacy.

Christy Nuetzman, UK family and consumer sciences extension agent in Clinton County, is already partnering with community organizations and agencies in her county to present educational programs on prescription drug abuse. She served on the conference's planning committee and presented some of her success stories to conference participants.

"All communities face substance abuse issues, and prescription drug abuse has became a major issue in the past couple of years. It affects all sectors of a community," she said. "People coming to the conference to share resources and find state and local agencies to partner with are taking important steps in helping to prevent substance abuse in their communities."

Amelia Brown, UK family and consumer sciences extension agent in Fayette County, was also a member of the planning committee and is working to develop substance abuse programs for Fayette County.

"Prescription drug abuse is a problem that's been swept under the rug in the past, but now it's being brought to the forefront," she said.