County of Marin - News Releases - Medication Misuse

For Immediate Release
October 22, 2015

Stakeholders Respond to Medication Misuse

News of teen hospitalizations sheds light on mission of RxSafe Marin

San Rafael, CA – After hearing about several Marin County teens who recently were hospitalized following overdoses of cough syrup, Marin County Public Health Officer Dr. Matthew Willis said it’s not just prescription drugs or illegal narcotics that present constant health risks to the community.

Dr. Matt Willis (background) speaks before a large crowd (foreground) at the RxSafe Marin community meeting.“This is an important reminder for us to have conversations with our children early and often about the potential harms of medications,” Willis said. “While helpful in some cases, medications, including those prescribed by a doctor, can cause more harm than good. This is not happening to just these kids, this school or this community. This is a national concern and we are fortunate in Marin to have supportive elected officials and a community that is aware, concerned and committed to action.”

Willis delivered his message just one day after more than 100 people convened for the annual community meeting of RxSafe Marin, a grassroots community initiative dedicated to saving lives and reducing harm from prescription drug misuse and abuse. The urgency of the topic was driven home just one day later by the teen hospitalizations in southern Marin.

In 2013, 27 people died of unintentional drug poisoning deaths in Marin –one death every two weeks. Willis said that justifies calling the phenomenon an epidemic. At the RxSafe Marin meeting, Willis unveiled new countywide prescriber guidelines aimed at improving patient outcomes and limiting the risk of unintended harm from narcotics prescribed for the treatment of non-cancer pain.

Developed in collaboration among the Marin County Department of Health and Human Services, the RxSafe Marin Prescribers and Pharmacists Action Team, and the Marin Medical Society, the guidelines are a tool for busy prescribers who face challenges practicing medicine in today’s fast-paced healthcare system. A recent survey showed that Marin primary care providers operating under uniform guidelines are:

  • 8 times more likely to use random drug screenings
  • 12 times more likely to use a medication agreement, and
  • 17 times more likely to utilize the statewide computer database that monitors prescriptions issued to patients

At the RxSafe Marin event October 20, journalist and founder of Oxy Watchdog Erin Marie Daly spoke to a near-capacity audience about the loss of her youngest brother to a heroin overdose at the age of 20. Daly and her three brothers were raised in Marin by a loving family, and had every opportunity in life open to them.

“If someone told me five years ago that my brother Pat would one day die of a heroin overdose, I would’ve thought they were crazy,” Daly said. “What had happened to my baby brother? How did a tiny little pill shatter our family? When did we first begin losing Pat?”

As illustrated in her book, Generation Rx: A Story of Dope, Death, and America's Opiate Crisis, Daly shared her perspective on what the prescription pill epidemic means for today’s youth, and the world around them. She commended RxSafe Marin participants for engaging in an initiative aimed at ending the local prescription drug abuse epidemic.  

Marin native Susan Kim was asked similar questions following the loss of her son, Trey, three years ago to a prescription drug overdose.

“If someone loses a child to cancer or a car accident, there is no stigma attached to it,” Kim said. “When parents lose a child to a drug abuse, they feel like they can’t talk about it. We need to break the silence about this epidemic. RxSafe Marin gives us the opportunity to talk, heal, and prevent this from happening to other families.”

Dr. Peter Bretan, President of the Marin Medical Association agreed and encouraged providers to register with the statewide database, called Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System (CURES). “Physicians are busy and need reliable administrative support to help ensure their patients are getting the best treatment possible,” Bretan said. “CURES allows us to identify chronic narcotic abusers. Utilization of CURES can help us prevent that abuse.”

Willis said RxSafe members have been working with partners in schools and local coalitions to promote awareness around the issues of alcohol and drug misuse and abuse, “and we are beginning to see positive results despite the news of these hospitalizations,” Willis said. “While we are encouraged by the community’s response, we still have a lot of work to do. We are committed to continued partnership with our community to prevent future misuse and abuse and save lives.”

Community feedback on the issue is welcomed. Email Follow RxSafe Marin on Facebook.  


Dr. Matthew Willis
Public Health Officer
Health and Human Services

3240 Kerner Blvd.
San Rafael, CA 94901
(415) 473-4163
Email: Dr. Matthew Willis
Marin HHS website