Seniors learn to protect themselves from fraud, drug misuse

(westhawaiitoday) - Prescription pills and over-the-counter drugs are becoming increasingly popular drugs of choice among teens, young adults and others, in part because of their accessibility.

Big Island law enforcement officers and state officials offered a peek into the drug culture during a presentation Tuesday to West Hawaii seniors. Briefly discussed were pharm parties — an emerging dangerous trend where an assortment of pills is mixed in a bowl and taken at random by partygoers — and sizzurp — a high addictive drink with serious side effects consisting of prescription cough syrup with codeine and a mixer such as soda or punch.

Several factors, including peer pressure, availability, environment, media and attitudes, influence medication drug abuse. Officials agree seniors can effectively help stop the problem from happening if they keep track of all medication, secure any medications and disposed of unused pills. The Police Department encouraged participation in the upcoming prescription drug take-back day, happening from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sept. 27 at the Kona police station. The public can then turn in unused, unneeded or expired prescription medication for safe, anonymous disposal.

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Other prevention methods touted were having clear rules about substance abuse, promoting healthy activities and being a role model by setting a positive example.

Valerie Mariano, chief of community and crime prevention at the Department of the Attorney General, shared federal data showing drug overdose deaths rose for the 11th straight year, most of which were accidents involving painkillers. In 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reported 38,329 drug overdose deaths nationwide and medicines, mostly prescription drugs, were involved in nearly 60 percent of those deaths.

Mariano, along with Ed Gomes of the Department of Public Safety’s Narcotics Enforcement Division, explained problems often arise because of incorrect use and drug interactions. To avoid such problems, they advised reading the labels of medications; making and maintaining a medication list; reviewing medications at least annually with doctors; using one pharmacy to fill all medications; and speaking up about condition, medications and their validity or effects.

Tuesday’s presentation was part of the the Kupuna Alert Partners program, initially formed as a state multiagency partnership to bring pertinent information on Medicare fraud prevention, securities prevention and prescription drug misuse to the community. Similar presentations will be held today at 10 a.m. in Aunty Sally’s Luau Hale in Hilo and at 2 p.m. in the Keaau Community Center.

When it comes to medical identity theft, victims often don’t realize they’ve been targeted until they discover a decrease in their credit score or until an agency comes after them for unpaid medical bills. Thieves often steal personal information to obtain medical care, buy drugs or medical equipment or submit fake billings under their victim’s insurance policy. While theft of wallets or purses is one way thieves access this information, another common scenario involves the criminal persuading a consumer to divulge information through bogus telemarketing involving medical supplies or free items. Criminals also make unsolicited phone calls posing as Medicare or Social Security Administration representatives, Mariano said.

According to the Senior Medicare Patrol-prepared slides, 47 percent of beneficiaries gave suppliers their Medicare numbers before calling the Medicare hotline. Nationwide, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services are aware of 276,408 Medicare beneficiary numbers, 5,038 Medicare provider numbers, and 169 Medicare Part D provider numbers compromised in this manner.

Mariano educated attendees about Hawaii identity theft laws and regulations. Businesses and government agencies are required to keep confidential personal information about consumers and to notify them if that information has been compromised. They are also restricted from disclosing consumers’ Social Security numbers to the general public. The penalty is $2,500 for each violation, she added.

Theresa Kong Kee, investor education specialist for the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs Business Registration Division, shared tips on how to protect personal information, as well as how to detect and report Medicare fraud or identity theft. She also explained what investment fraud victims can do and the importance of checking on the registration of a person who is “helping” them invest — something that can be done for free by calling the Office of the Securities Commissioner.

Kong Kee said the Office of the Securities Commissioner is the only state office that enforces Hawaii securities laws in Hawaii, and it’s “here to help before and after a fraud.” Investment fraud happens on every island and to all kinds of people, with Ponzi schemes being the No. 1 investment scam in the state. The public can file complaints to the office, which has investigators and attorneys who can investigate and prosecute investment fraud or violations. Education on wise investing practices, financial literacy and investor protection is also offered.

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