New statewide hotline to help prescription drug addicts

WVU School of Medicine project funded by OxyContin settlement funds

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – To stem the prescription drug abuse epidemic in the state, the West Virginia University School of Medicine launched the West Virginia Prescription Drug Abuse Quitline today.

The Quitline, 1-866-WVQUITT, aims to educate prescription drug abusers and their families about the problem and services in their areas.

Health information specialists – taking calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week – can give referrals to treatment centers, provide information about Narcotics Anonymous meetings and mail self-help materials. They will also make up to four follow-up calls over the course of several months.

The line is funded by a $1 million grant WVU received from the state’s multimillion dollar OxyContin settlement with Purdue Pharma.

“Prescription drug abuse in West Virginia is a silent epidemic that is wreaking havoc on communities throughout state,” Carl R. “Rolly” Sullivan, M.D., co-principal investigator for the Quitline project and medical director of addiction services at WVU, said.

The greatest increases of deaths from drug overdoses are not in urban areas but in rural areas. In five years (1999-2004), deaths resulting from drug overdose in West Virginia rose 550 percent. This was the largest increase of any state in the country.

Sullivan attributed the rise to a national shift in the mid-1990s toward adequately treating pain, which occurred at about the same time opioid pain medications such as OxyContin became popular. Other opioids include Percocet, Lortab, Hydrocodone, Vicodin and Morphine. In West Virginia, workers in blue-collar industries such as mining and timbering where accidents occur more frequently were increasingly prescribed such painkillers.

As the problem grew, OxyContin became known as “Hillbilly Heroin” in West Virginia. “Many addicts say they prefer OxyContin to heroin because they know what they’re getting when they take it,” Sullivan said.

In 2001, West Virginia sued Purdue Pharma for its aggressive marketing of OxyContin.

Purdue Pharma eventually agreed to pay $634.5 million in fines to several states, including $10 million over four years to West Virginia. In addition to the Quitline, monies received from the settlement have been used to operate day report centers across the state. Day report centers provide substance abusers with the support necessary to successfully complete rehabilitation and return to society clean and sober.

For more information on the West Virginia Prescription Drug Abuse Quitline, visit www.wvrxabuse.org.


For more information:
Angela Jones, HSC News Service, 304-293-7087
asj: 09-11-08

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