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A National Epidemic: Prescription Drug Abuse

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.

Prescription Drug Abuse-A National Dilemma

Pathways-- Prescription Drug Abuse National Dilemna -- 08-23-16According to a 2006 National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) survey nearly 21% of the population in the U.S. reported non-medical use of prescription drugs at some point in their lifetime. The 2009 National Prescription Drug Threat Assessment states that unintentional overdose deaths resulting from prescription drugs has increased 114% from 2001 to 2005. And according to SAMHSA, prescription drug abuse is the second most common form of recreational drug use in America second only to marijuana. Given these statistics, it is clear that abuse of prescription drugs in the United States is a serious subject. For our neighbors to the north in Canada, the story is much the same with accidental deaths from opioid use having doubled from 1991 to 2004.

Is Prescription Drug Abuse More “Socially Acceptable” Than Illicit Drug Use?

For many people, the stigma of prescription drug abuse is negligible when compared to illicit drug abuse. After all, the substance of abuse was prescribed by a doctor and purchased in a pharmacy. It’s not like the addict was buying heroin, cocaine, or some other street drug from a dealer. So where’s the problem? This type of mentality is contributing to the problem, and it prevents many from seeking the prescription drug abuse treatment that they need.  The results of this attitude can can have drastic results.

An Increase In Prescription Drug Use For Recreational Purposes

The diversion of prescription drugs from their intended use has increased drastically from 2003 to 2007. According to the 2009 threat assessment, the diversion of opioid pain relievers has increased the most during this time period: hydrocodone (vicodin) 118%, morphine 111%, and methadone 109%. Other prescription drugs commonly diverted for abuse include Oxycontin which has a street name “80” or “Hillbilly heroin”, Ritalin (Ritz or Vitamin R), and Xanax (zanies).  Prescription drug abuse treatment for many of these substances can be very difficult.

Where Do RX Drug Abusers Get Their Pills?

The diversion of these drugs occurs through various forms. 56.5% of abusers reported that they received the drugs from a friend or relative for free, and 81% of these people reported that the drugs were originally obtained from a doctor through a prescription. Other ways that prescription drugs are obtained for illicit use include theft from a family member or friend (5.2%), Internet purchases (0.5%), and purchase from a dealer (4.1%). Another common practice amongst addicts to obtain prescription drugs is “doctor shopping.” This is the practice of visiting several doctors for the same “ailment” to receive multiple valid prescriptions.

Prescription Drug Abuse Among Teens

Among teens, the practice of “pharming” can have drastic results when they grab a handful of prescription pills out of a bowl and ingest some or all of them.

The prescription drug and opiate epidemic is spreading around the country at an alarming rate, and many are being caught up in its wake. It is imperative for those suffering from opiate addictions brought on by prescription painkillers to know that there is a way out; through detox, rehabilitation and determination.