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A National Epidemic: Prescription Drug Abuse

A National Epidemic Feature

A National Epidemic: Prescription Drug Abuse

Prescription drug abuse has become an epidemic in our nation. The last decade has seen a sharp rise in addiction overdoses and deaths related to non-medical prescription drug use. Narcotic pain relievers present issues in particular, and their abuse costs the United States billions of dollars per year. Money is lost to criminal justice expenses, treatment, medical compensation, and more.

Overdoses And Deaths Climbing Quickly

Drug-related poisoning or overdosing is now the leading cause of death due to unintentional injuries. That number is, astoundingly, even greater than the people who are killed in motor vehicle accidents. Prescription drug overdoses are more common than any of the illicit or illegal drugs, including heroin (another opiate). In fact, nearly 50,000 people lost their lives due to overdoses just last year.

There are several risks connected to the abuse of opiates, including death. The number of emergency room visits related to these drugs is highest for individuals between 21 and 29 years old. Most fatal cases, however, involved middle-aged Caucasians. The threat of death increases in relation to the number and size of doses used. Users may seek to maintain a constant “high” to avoid any of the uncomfortable symptoms of withdrawal. Instead of looking for help, they’ll consume the drugs more often and at continuously larger doses.

Other factors influence the risk of overdose and death as well. A higher number of prescriptions, early refills, concomitant use of other drugs (such as benzodiazepines), and “doctor shopping” can all be connected to serious cases. Doctor or pharmacy shopping is especially harmful to the community. With this practice, the individual will visit several facilities to gain as many prescriptions as possible. Each script will be dropped off at a different location to avoid suspicion. Actions like these make physicians cautious when prescribing opiates, even to those who need them, reducing treatment quality for people seeking drugs for strictly medical purposes.

Although older people are seen most commonly in emergency rooms, many teenagers are also experimenting with prescription drugs. Surveys have shown that more than 20% of high schoolers admit to taking a drug when it was not prescribed for them. These statistics are rather surprising, and the only higher number for use among them is marijuana. Data also suggests that teens in rural areas are much more likely to illicitly use prescription drugs.

A sad truth is that newborns are also at risk of opioid-related health issues. An addicted mother will give birth to an addicted baby. These infants are then forced to suffer terrible withdrawal symptoms in their first days of life. Unfortunately, the effects are often much greater for the newborns. Common symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Excessive crying
  • Fever
  • Irritability
  • Hyperactive reflects
  • Poor feeding
  • Seizures
  • Rapid breathing
  • Slow weight gain
  • Tremors
  • Vomiting
  • Stuffy nose
  • Blotchy skin

Societal Effects Of Prescription Drug Abuse

In general, fatalities from automobile accidents are on the decline. However, more than a third of drivers who are killed in such accidents test positive for drugs, including prescriptions. Pain relievers, depressants, and stimulants can all greatly alter the physical and psychological states of the body. They also reduce reaction times and numb the reflexes in many cases, putting people at a much higher risk.

Pharmacy robberies are on the rise as well. Those with severe addictions will often turn to any means possible to get their drugs. If they’re unable to get them from family members, friends, or dealers, they’ll steal from pharmacies and even physician’s offices. A mentality of this sort makes neighborhoods and communities far more dangerous places.

Prescription drug abuse isn’t something that should be taken lightly. If you or a loved one is suffering from a dependency on prescription medication, it’s important to seek help. Withdrawals can range from uncomfortable to life-threatening. Treatment facilities have the knowledge and resources to evaluate the addiction and devise a rehabilitation program to meet the individual’s specific needs.