SAN LUIS OBISPO COUNTY, Calif. - A Washington Post investigation gives new insight to the opioid epidemic on
the Central Coast. DEA records obtained by the newspaper shows millions of pills were prescribed to local patients between 2006 and 2012.
“They're addictive, they can cause you to crave them," said epidemiologist Ann McDowell, of the San Luis Obispo County Health Department.
Between Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties combined, there were nearly 180 million pills prescribed.
Locally, The Post calculated SLO County prescriptions added up to 41 pills for each person in the county, each year. In Santa Barbara, the pain pills supplied were enough for 34 pills a person, per year. By comparison, in Los Angeles County, the total amount of pain killers were enough for 21 pills, per person in that county, per year.
“They're generally prescribed to people who are experiencing a lot of pain due to a surgery, or an injury, or perhaps a terminal illness," said McDowell.
Some Central Coast pharmacies supplied millions of pills. Dentist Mark Davis is at the other end of that list.
“I always try to be very careful about how I prescribe medication to my patients," he said in a Skype interview with KCOY.
Davis has practices in Pismo Beach, Paso Robles, and Santa Maria, and he prescribed only 100 pills during that entire six-year period, according to the Washington Post data.
“I believe in just over-the-counter remedies like Tylenol or Advil. They seem to work just as well for patients," he said.
Davis said he might recommend the drug to his patients when it comes to procedures like full mouth extractions.
“If I dispense any, a lot of times it's under 10 tablets. So that will only last them maybe two to three days max.”
Health experts say the dose of a pain killer prescription can depend on the specialty of the doctor. These pills are often used to reduce pain for people who have terminal illnesses.
“You might see higher prescription rates in oncologists, which are cancer doctors," said McDowell. "People who undergo oral surgery, and traditionally we've seen a lot of opiates prescribed when people have sports-type injuries.”
Meanwhile, the San Luis Obispo County Opioid Safety Coalition is working to end the abuse of pain pills. The group uses outreach and education to help reduce the numbers of people addicted to opiates.
Narcan (naloxone) is known to reverse opioid overdoses. In many pharmacies in SLO County, patients could get a dose without a doctor's prescription.