What do Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Heath Ledger, Jimi Hendrix, Whitney Houston, Anna Nicole Smith, Bruce Lee, Britney Murphy, and Michael Jackson all have in common? They all died from prescription drug overdoses.
America’s biggest drug problem is not on our streets, it’s in our medicine cabinets. When used appropriately, prescription drugs enable people with chronic medical conditions to control their symptoms and lead productive lives. When used non- medically, prescription drugs are dangerous, addicting, and deadly. Unintentional drug poisoning is now the 2nd leading cause of accidental death in the U.S. In fact, one person dies every 19 minutes from it. Prescription drugs are the most commonly abused drugs amongst 12-13 year olds.
Examples of prescription drugs that are commonly abused are pain relievers, such as Vicodin, hydrocodone, and oxycodone, stimulants, such as Ritalin and Adderall, and tranqulizers, such as Valium and Ambien. The dangers associated with these include increase in blood pressure and heart rate, brain damage, accidental overdose, respiratory depression, seizures, and death.
Prescription drugs are not safe and are just as addictive as street drugs.
What is abuse? It is the intentional misuse of medicine outside the accepted standards for its use. This can include if you are taking medication that is not prescribed to you, if you are taking more than prescribed, and if you are taking it for a reason that you are not supposed to. For instance, if you hurt your back and a friend gives you their left over Percocet, that is abuse. If you decide to take two sleeping pills, instead of one, that is abuse. If you take Valium with some alcohol to get high, that is abuse.
Why are prescription medications so widely abused?
One reason is drug advertising in the media. We are one of two countries in the world that allow direct to the public drug marketing. It is this media exposure that makes people think that medications are safe, leading the public to think its okay to self diagnose and self prescribe. Because prescriptions are legal, the public thinks they are not dangerous or addictive.
Teens are part of the prescription drug abuse problem. 20% of teens actively abuse medications. Four out of the five drugs that teenagers abuse are medications, behind only marijuana. 2,500 teenagers abuse a prescription drug for the first time every day.
How do people get the prescription drugs they abuse. They buy them or get them for free from friends and family. Other ways include online pharmacies, thefts from pharmacies and homes ( including friends and relatives), Dr’s inappropriate prescribing, doctor shopping, altering and forging prescriptions.
My goal is to raise awareness and attack the problem, before more people die unnecessarily.
What can we do? First, avoid self diagnosing and self prescribing. Prescription medications should only be used under medical supervision. Modeling this behavior can help change the public’s perception that prescription drugs are safe. A health care professional needs to evaluate the risks and benefits for their use and monitor the outcomes in each patient.
Second, store your medications in a locked and secure place. About 70% of abusers get them from family and friends medicine cabinets. Keep track of how many pills you have to make sure they aren’t disappearing.
Third, dispose of medications that you no longer need. Take advantage of community take back programs. If one is not available, mix the drugs with noxious materials such as coffee grounds or kitty litter, place in a disposable container and throw away in the trash. Do not flush them down the toilet.
Lastly, educate others. Letting others know about the dangers associated with prescription drug abuse will help us in our fight to end prescriptions drug abuse.