The Prescription Drug Abuse and Addiction Epidemic
Less than one week before Christmas, three lives were changed forever.
It wasn’t a Christmas miracle however. It was a tragedy. Around 6:30pm, a young couple in their late 20’s had just finished seeing a movie at the local theater and were crossing the street (in a marked crosswalk) on the way to their car. It was dark and rainy, but the streets were well-lit and the crosswalk lights flashed for oncoming drivers. That wasn’t enough for a 61-year-old woman who noticed the couple too late, hit her brakes, but continued to driver her car directly into the pair, sending the man up and over the hood, and knocking the woman to the ground. The young couple both incurred serious head injuries, and the man suffered multiple injuries along his body as well. The woman driver stopped and cooperated with police when they arrived on the seen, but in the end, it was determined that she was under the influence of prescription drugs which likely caused the impairment in her judgement. The accident is no longer considered “an accident”, and she is facing criminal charges such as D.U.I. and others since she caused harm to others. None of these three spend a “Merry Christmas”.
This is just one instance which demonstrates the reality of the painkiller epidemic sweeping our nation.
Here are some startling facts:
• 52 million People in the U.S. over the age of 12, have used prescription drugs non-medically in their lifetime.
• 6.1 million People have used them non-medically in the past month.
• The U. S. makes up 5% of the world’s population and consumes 75% of the world’s prescription drugs.
• In 2010, enough prescription painkillers were prescribed to medicate every American adult every 4 hours for 1 month.
• New study claims that as much as 80 % of employers face prescription drug abuse by workers.
• Deaths caused by pain medications alone have increased by 400 percent, and currently cause more deaths than overdoses of cocaine and heroin combined.
How are people obtaining the prescriptions?
• 0.3%: Bought on the internet
• 1.9%: More than one doctor
• 2.2%: Other
• 3.9%: Drug dealer or stranger
• 16.6% Bought/took from friend or relative
• 18.1%: One doctor
• 54.2%: FREE from friend or relative
How Does Prescription Drug Abuse Begin?
Although many people use prescription drugs only as their physician prescribed them, the reported statistics do indicate that prescription drug abuse is a problem. For many people, the abuse of prescription drugs begins by simply not using the medications as prescribed. This may include taking more than the prescribed dosage or taking the drug recreationally. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the most commonly abused prescription drugs include pain relievers (painkillers) and sleeping pills.
Opioid painkillers produce a short-lived euphoria (intended to relieve the patient’s pain), but they are also addictive. Long-term use of painkillers can lead to physical dependence. The body easily adapts to the presence of the substance, and if one stops taking the drug suddenly, withdrawal symptoms occur. Or the body builds up a tolerance to the drug, meaning that higher doses have to be taken to achieve the same effects.
A patient we’ll call Alex said, “I didn’t think I had a ‘drug’ problem. I was buying the tablets at the drugstore. It didn’t affect my work. I would feel a bit tired in the mornings, but nothing more. The fact that I had a problem came to a head when I took an overdose of about forty tablets and found myself in the hospital. I spent twelve weeks in the clinic conquering my addiction.”
Like all drugs, painkillers simply mask the pain for which they are taken. They don’t actually “cure” anything. Someone who is continuously trying to dull the pain may find himself taking higher and higher doses, only to discover that he can no longer make it through the day without the drug.
Because it reacts on the nervous system like heroin or opium, some abusers are using one brand of oxycodone painkiller, OxyContin, as a substitute for, or supplement to, street opiates like heroin. One of the serious risks of opioids is respiratory depression, when users take high doses, it can cause breathing to slow down to the point it stops, and the user dies from accidental overdose. The tragic reality is that every day, 44 people die from opioid pain medications. In fact, every year, 43,000 people die from a drug overdose, mostly from prescription pain medications.
What to do if you or someone you care for is addicted to prescription drugs
Addiction to prescription drugs in the opiate family can be very difficult and be dangerous to withdraw from. You should not try to “go cold turkey” alone. Medically supervised detox is the best way to ensure the safety and well-being of the individual who has made the decision to stop. Those in the addiction treatment profession such as Moffitt Wellness Retreat, can help answer questions and provide the level of care you need to “get clean” and begin the road to recovery.