Satisfied with the progress made to counteract synthetic drug use in Jefferson County, a community work group dedicated to battling the products is moving to a new focus: limiting prescription medication and painkiller abuse.
The group met Tuesday at the Marcy Building, 167 Polk St.
According to the Jefferson County Public Health Services Medical Examiner Program, the county has had eight confirmed overdose deaths this year, with six of those connected to opiate usage. Another three deaths are under review.
The county had 18 overdose deaths in 2011, with 15 of them from opiates. The number was a sharp jump from the eight overdose deaths in 2010, half of them attributed to opiates.
Joey Marie Horton, network director for North Country Healthcare Providers, a limited liability corporation formed by several area hospitals, said the problem was discussed by several hospital staffs in September.
While discussions to combat the problem are in their early stages, Mrs. Horton said one of the potential methods to curb the problem would be to standardize prescription distribution among hospitals, including implementing a database to track what was being prescribed.
Another option, Mrs. Horton said, was allowing clinics and pharmacies the ability to share information. However, there was some concern that it would infringe on patients rights under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.
She said better screening in emergency rooms and improved community assistance, such as expanding drug turn-in programs at police stations, also could help fight the problem.
Vonnice L. Vonnie Joels, the countys medical investigator, said statistics were being compiled to better understand victims of overdose deaths, such as what chemicals were found in victims bodies, what they were doing when they died and personal habits such as whether they smoked.
The work group has moved from discussing synthetic drugs since new rules at the county and state levels have been implemented, dramatically reducing the drugs sale.
However, Anita K. Seefried-Brown, program director of the Alcohol and Substance Abuse Council of Jefferson County, told the group that the products still could be in use.
She ended Tuesdays meeting by pulling out a plastic bag that held a small container labeled Puff the Magic Dragon, which she said she found in the parking lot of the Jreck Subs near Watertown High School. The product was labeled as an aromatic potpourri.
Many synthetic drug retailers counteracted federal regulators by mislabeling their products as potpourri, glass cleaner or bath salts.