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Deaths linked to prescription drugs plunge in Spokane County

The number of prescription drug overdose deaths in Spokane County has plummeted over the past three years.

The number of such deaths in the county has dropped 40 percent, comparing three-year time spans from 2006 to 2008 and 2009 to 2011.

In the earlier three-year span, there were 193 deaths due to prescription drug overdoses. From 2009 to 2011 there were 115 deaths.

Prescription overdose deaths statewide have also declined, although not as dramatically – by 8 percent. Comparing individual years, however, shows a 23 percent decrease in deaths from 2008 to 2011.

Spokane County’s prescription death rate over the past three years is 8.1 per 100,000 people, which despite the drop in deaths is still higher than the statewide rate of 6.3.

The Washington Department of Health released the numbers Wednesday. Numbers for 2012 are not available.

Dr. Joel McCullough, health officer for the Spokane Regional Health District, said the lower numbers in Spokane County are indicative of increased focus on the dangers of prescription drugs.

He said the health district conducted a study to analyze prescription practices of local dentists and has been instrumental in helping dispose of unused drugs.

“We’re one of the agencies that’s been involved in promoting these drug take-back events,” McCullough said.

The health district is also continuing discussions with physicians about how to deal with chronic pain, a key component of the battle against over-prescribing drugs that contain addictive opiates or opioids, McCullough said.

While the number of deaths is down, McCullough said that doesn’t mean there isn’t still a problem with drugs in the community.

“We still know that there’s a significant problem with addiction,” he said.

According to a release from the state health department, the death rate in 2011 was still six times higher than it was in 1998.

Recent efforts on the state level to combat prescription drug abuse include a new Prescription Monitoring Program, which allows prescribers access to a database to see all of the prescriptions for controlled substances that their patients are already receiving. The program began in January 2012.

A list of places to safely dispose of medications can be found online by going to