News & Success Stories


News // September 08, 2014

Benefits and Risks of Prescription Drugs

Prescription drugs can be lifesavers. They can also help people manage health problems. At the same time prescription drugs are a leading cause of addiction and accidental overdose deaths throughout the United States.

Since 2008, there have been about 250 unintentional deaths annually related to prescription drug abuse.  Prescription drugs are easy to get, highly addictive, and according to a study by the San Diego Association of Governments, one in four teens in San Diego County has misused prescription drugs, second only to marijuana as their recreational drug of preference.  In addition, arrests by the Drug Enforcement Administration and local law enforcement for prescription drug-related violations have increased by more than 51% and continue to grow.  Prescription drug-related overdose deaths now outnumber deaths by firearms, motor vehicle accidents and suicides as the leading cause of unintentional death.  Prescription drug abuse has been declared a national epidemic by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the County of San Diego has taken a stand to bring solutions to our community. 

In 2008, the County of San Diego established a Prescription Drug Abuse Task Force (PDATF) with the support of the County Board of Supervisors and the collaboration of the Health and Human Services Agency, Probation, Sheriff and other law enforcement, Medical Examiner’s Office, the education sector, and the local medical community. The PDATF publishes an annual Prescription Drug Abuse Report Card and organizes “take-back days” to collect and destroy unused controlled medications.  In addition, all Sheriff sub-stations and the County Administration Center at 1600 Pacific Highway now have prescription drug drop boxes which may be accessed throughout the year during regular business hours to dispose of all unneeded medications.

The Report Card provides significant data to inform members of the PDATF and local leaders in developing solutions.  In August 2010, members of the PDATF and local community leaders convened a day-long summit to develop specific strategies leading to a comprehensive plan for the County that would produce measurable results.  The resulting Prescription Drug Abuse Plan was the first of its kind and promotes a coordinated response by federal, State and local partners throughout the region. The plan established specific goals, including:

  • Establishing clear messages and distributing materials to increase awareness of prescription drug abuse in a variety of venues including hospital emergency departments.
  • Educating the general community and healthcare professionals on prescription drug abuse.
  • Increasing training of law enforcement and coordinating intelligence sharing to decrease availability of prescription drugs.
  • Supporting utilization of the national prescription drug abuse tracking, known as Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System (CURES) and partnering with the pharmaceutical industry on legislation to enhance safety.
  • Establishing parent and youth-led prevention activities and increasing availability of treatment and recovery programs.

In 2013, members of the PDATF also collaborated to design the “Safe Pain Medication Prescribing handout,” provided in all local hospital emergency departments to assist patients in understanding the impact of prescription drugs and the role of the local medical community in efforts to reduce deaths and addiction.  The handout was very well received locally and has also been adopted by several emergency departments throughout California; and HHSA received a NACo award for its development and distribution. 

Visit the Prescription Drug Abuse Taskforce website to learn more.