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Prescription Drug Addiction: A Major Epidemic With No Cure In Sight
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), and hundreds of other national, state and local agencies and institutions, are facing an epidemic as deadly as any disease that ever swept across the world: prescription drug addiction.
Experts from dozens of disciplines are searching for the reasons that are driving the drug epidemic, hoping to find ways to stem the tide of prescription drug addiction and the flood of abuse and dependence that is causing injury, addiction and even death for tens of thousands of Americans of all ages and walks of life. So far, it seems our “pop a pill for whatever ails you” culture is a major contributing factor, backed by the fallacious idea, “It’s prescription medicine — it can’t hurt you.”
According to NIDA, the far-ranging scope of prescription drug abuse stems not only from massive increases in prescriptions in recent years, but also from misperceptions of their safety. In her report earlier this year to a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs, NIDA Director Dr. Nora D. Volkow described a widespread situation in which parents and their kids don’t appreciate the dangers of handing out or sharing prescription drugs for almost any seemingly useful reason — from improving academic performance to dealing with illness, pain or even unwanted moods — to others who don’t have prescriptions for those drugs.
“Being in college may even be a risk factor for greater use of amphetamines or Ritalin non-medically, with reports of students taking pills before tests and of those with prescribed medications being approached to divert them to others,” Dr. Volkow said. “Pain relievers show a similar link with regard to access. Evidence suggests that parents sometimes provide their children with prescription medications not prescribed by a physician for the child to relieve their discomfort.”
According to a 2006 survey, nearly 56 percent of kids 12 and older who misused pain relievers said they received their medications from a friend or family member. And most of them got the drugs from just one doctor. Only 3.9 percent cited bought prescription drugs from a drug dealer or stranger, and only 0.1 percent bought the drugs from an internet pharmacy.
“Notably, the leading reason for the abuse is to relieve pain,” Dr. Volkow said, “although other top motives include intent to get high and experimentation.”
The dangers are clear among younger groups, where high school students say they often use prescription drugs from friends or family for the medications’ intended purpose. But using these medications in ways other than prescribed poses multiple risks, Dr. Volkow reported, including dangerous interactions with other medications, accidental poisoning, and risk of prescription drug addiction.
But adolescence is the riskiest time, not only for drug experimentation, but for developing a prescription drug addiction. The brain is still developing, and exposure to drugs interferes with normal development.
“Today we know that the last part of the brain to fully mature is the prefrontal cortex,” Dr. Volkow said, “a region that governs judgment and decision-making functions. This may help explain why teens are prone to risk-taking and to experimentation with alcohol and other drugs.”
Research also shows that, compared to teens who don’t abuse prescription medications, adolescents who abuse prescription drugs are twice as likely to engage in delinquent behavior, and nearly three times as likely to experience episodes of major depression.
Clearly, the vast majority of instances of prescription drug addiction are sourced in family and friends who think little of passing around their prescriptions, with the erroneous consideration that because it’s medicine, it’s safe. And again, these drugs can clearly be harmful.
The first thing to do, whether you’re a parent, a student, or anyone else, is to stop passing around your prescription to anyone who seems to need or want it, and send them to a doctor instead. If they really do need it, they’ll get their own prescription, along with the necessary warnings about dangerous drug and alcohol interactions and the risk of prescription drug addiction that pertains to their case, not yours.
And if you, or someone you know, seems dependent on a prescription drug, and especially if they have an obvious prescription drug addiction, and call a ‘medical’ drug detox center immediately. Talk to an expert, and help save a life.
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