When people hear about substance abuse, the first thing that usually comes to mind is an illicit drug, like cocaine and heroin. In reality, however, “street” drugs are not the biggest problem plaguing our country today. Believe it or not, prescription drug abuse is the nation’s fastest growing drug problem and the majority of addicts today consist of prescription drug addicts.
It’s easy to dismiss prescription drugs addiction as a “light” form of drug use. After all physicians prescribe them and completely legal, so can’t be too harmful, right? Wrong. Prescription drugs – such as narcotic painkillers, sedatives and tranquillizers, and stimulants – act both directly and indirectly on the same brain systems and “pleasure points” affected by illegal drugs, making them just as addictive when overused or used other than prescribed by a licensed physician. And just like other substances, after continued use, one builds up a tolerance, eventually requiring more and more of the medication to feel its effects – thus opening up the door to unintentional overdoses. In fact, from 1999-2008, unintentional opiod analgesics, such as Vicodin, Morphine and OxyContin, overdoses leading to death were higher than those for both cocaine and heroin by a wide margin of 10,000 and 8,000 deaths, respectively.
It’s important to raise awareness of the dangers that prescription drug abuse can cause. Below are some facts you should to know to educate yourself on the severity of this rising problem in our country.
- In 2010, approximately 7 million people in the U.S. were labeled as prescription drug addicts who used substances for recreational and non-medical purposes.
- Pain relievers, such as Demerol, Vicodin, Percocet and OxyContin, top the list as the most frequently abused medications.
- Prescription drug abuse is growing among teenagers at an alarming rate – and is much more prevalent than illicit drug use. Nearly one in 12 high school seniors stated that they have abused Vicodin and one in 20 have used OxyContin recreationally. Seventy-percent (70%) of these drug users reported that they received the pills from friends.
- From 1991 to 2010, prescriptions written for stimulants have skyrocketed from 5 million to 45 million; for opiod analgesics, they’ve risen from 75.5 million to 209.5 million.
- Risk factors for someone to become addicted to prescription drugs include a history of prior substance abuse (drugs or alcohol), younger ages (such as teens and people in their early 20’s), and easy access (this particularly applies to individuals working in healthcare settings).
If you have a prior history of substance abuse, it is imperative to have a candid discussion with your physician prior to beginning a legitimate prescription drug plan to combat a health issue so you can devise a plan to keep you safe from addiction.