Many people do not start taking prescription drugs in order to get high. There are many valid reasons to take them: to ease pain, to help fall asleep, or to ease depressive symptoms. Unfortunately, long-term use of these drugs presents a very serious risk – addiction.
As an example in this USA Today report, a woman who took the painkiller drug Percocet for rheumatoid arthritis for 10 years developed dependence for the drug. What started as a normal daily dose progressed to six or seven pills a day. The pills not only eased her chronic pain, it gives her an energy boost that brings a feeling of high.
There are those, however, who abuse prescription drugs with the aim to get high and these are mostly teenagers and young adults.
Thus, here comes a hidden but serious epidemic in many developed countries: prescription drug abuse.
According to figures from the US Department of Health and Services:
- In 2000, 43 percent of those who ended up in hospital emergency rooms from drug overdoses-nearly a half million people-were there because of misusing prescription drugs.
- In seven cities in 2000 (Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Seattle, and Washington, DC) 626 people died from overdose of painkillers and tranquilizers. By 2001, such deaths had increased in Miami and Chicago by 20 percent.
- From 1998 to 2000, the number of people entering an emergency room because of misusing hydrocodone (Vicodin) rose 48 percent, oxycodone (OxyContin) 108 percent, and methadone 63 percent. The rates are intensifying: from mid-2000 to mid-2001, oxycodone went up in emergency room visits 44 percent.
- Over the past decade-and-a-half, the number of teen and young adult (ages 12 to 25) new abusers of prescription painkillers such as oxycodone (OxyContin) or hydrocodone (Vicodin) has grown five-fold (from 400,000 in the mid-eighties to 2 million in 2000).
- New misusers of tranquilizers such as diazepam (Valium) or alprazolam (Xanax, called “zanies” by youth)-medicine normally used to treat anxiety or tension-went up nearly 50 percent in one year (700,000 in 1999 to 1 million in 2000).
- More than 17 percent of adults over 60, wittingly or not, abuse prescription drugs.
- In 2000, more than 19 million prescriptions for ADHD drugs were filled, a 72 percent increase since 1995. An estimated 3 to 5 percent of school-age children have ADHD. A study of students in Wisconsin and Minnesota showed 34 percent of ADHD youth age 11 to 18 report being approached to sell or trade their medicines, such as Ritalin.
- Among 12- to 17-year-olds, girls are more likely than boys to use psychotherapeutic drugs nonmedically.
As previously posted here, prescription drug abuse is on the rise and ranks second only to marijuana abuse. The most commonly abused prescription drugs are painkillers, particularly those that contain opioid compounds. Examples are morphine and codeine, the latter also found in cough syrups.
Unfortunately, with addiction comes an even bigger risk – overdose. Thousands of people in the US die of prescription drug overdose each year. Fatal overdose rates on painkillers have supposedly surpassed those on heroin and cocaine in recent years.
So why is prescription drug addiction on the rise?
- They are easy to obtain. The medicine cabinet at home is still the main source of prescription drugs. Many teens are abusing drugs available at home.
- People do not get addicted on purpose. They start taking the drugs for a valid reason and end up as junkies. The popular medical soap “Dr. House” illustrates how people, even medical doctors, who take painkillers regular get hooked without meaning to do so.
- People believe prescription drugs are not illegal and therefore less of an evil than illegal drugs such as cocaine or heroin. Doctors are sometimes unknowing facilitators when patients go from doctor to doctor for new prescriptions.
- Some people are genetically predisposed to addiction, even to drugs that are normally that considered addictive.
- The rise of Internet sites which sell prescription drugs illegally has increased remarkably in recent years, making access to these drugs easier.
- People who are not addicts may try to sell their prescription drugs to third parties for cash.
How can prescription drug abused be prevented?
- Start prevention at your own home. The advocacy group Five Moms are campaign for parents to secure their medicine cabinets.
- Electronic medical records can alert doctors to unusual patient behavior such as frequent visits to different doctors and unusually frequent requests for prescriptions. According to USA Today, 39 American states have electronic records which track potentially addictive prescription drugs but the database is only available within each state and can easily be circumvented by crossing the stateline.
- Health authorities recommend that doctors perform unannounced inventories of patient’s drug supply or conduct random urine tests.
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