Poll: Louisiana ranks 5th for mood-altering drug use

Poll: Louisiana ranks 5th for mood-altering drug use

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Local experts are weighing in about a new poll that finds Louisiana ranks fifth for people who use mood-altering drugs. The Gallup poll surveyed people across the country.

Those mood-altering drugs include alcohol, nicotine, illegal and prescription drugs. We talked with experts who say they're not surprised that Louisiana ranks near the top of the list.

Al Spitale has been a New Orleans pharmacist for 40 years. In that time, he says he's seen a big increase in the amount of people who turn to prescription medications to help them relax.

"I can see a lot of drugs go out - especially with the anti-depression drugs, a lot of anti-anxiety drugs. There's a lot of stress in the world. There's no doubt about it. It's not the way it was 40 years ago with the things that people have to cope with, and sometimes they just need a little lift," Spitale said.

And according to the poll, where researchers surveyed at least 450 people in every state, 23 percent of those living in Louisiana say they use substances to unwind.

"A lot of sleeping aids, it's a very common problem. There are sleep centers all over the place trying to diagnose why people can't sleep. So, it is a legitimate medical problem and people do need help with that," Spitale said.

James Becnel is an assistant professor of psychiatry at the LSU Health Sciences Center. While he tells us he's not surprised by the poll's findings, he says it is something we should be concerned about.

"In most surveys of Louisiana residents, when they ask what are you most concerned about, often times alcohol/drug use is high on that list. We have high rates of overdose with heroin abuse, prescription drug addiction is a problem as well," Becnel said.

Becnel adds that Louisiana has been through its share of traumatic events in recent years, like the BP oil spill and Hurricane Katrina. He says catastrophic disasters like that tend to contribute to higher substance abuse problems.

"How many times have you heard, 'you're having a hard time, you need a drink.' And that's sort of a common thing that's not just true here in Louisiana," said Becnel.

And, Spitale says these days there are a lot more drugs being prescribed that effectively treat a number of legitimate medical problems compared to years ago. With that said, he says patients are closely monitored not only by their doctor but also by pharmacists to make sure they're not over using.

"We have a prescription monitoring program which we have access to. I can tell if you filled somewhere yesterday for a controlled substance so we can monitor if you are abusing it or re-filling it too soon, if you are doctor shopping. We have access to all that information, so we turn prescriptions away everyday for people who come in," said Spitale.

According to the Gallup poll, those in West Virginia have the highest use of mood-altering drugs, followed by Rhode Island, Kentucky and Alabama.