Prescription drug abuse is now our nation’s fasted growing drug problem. In a 10-year period from 2007-2010, the use of prescription opiates (milligram-per-person) rose tremendously from 74 milligrams to 369 milligrams, a staggering 402% increase. In 2000, retail pharmacies dispensed 174 million prescriptions and in 2009 that number increased by 43% with 257 million opiate prescriptions dispensed. One-third of people age 12 and over who used drugs for the first time in 2009 began by using a prescription drug non-medically, prescription drugs are the second most abused drugs in our country and prescription drug overdose has become the leading cause of accidental death in many states. Clearly, opiate drug abuse has become a nationwide epidemic.
Only second to marijuana and alcohol abuse, prescription drugs are at the top of the list for the most abused drugs in the United States. And because prescription medication is one of the most expensive street drugs on the market, it is also causing a rise in heroin abuse, as heroin can provide a similar euphoric fix for significantly less money. Another issue is that these are not illegal drugs, but ones that can be obtained rather easily through prescriptions, depending on what symptoms a patient “tells” his doctor he is experiencing. Since pain is subjective, it is near impossible for a doctor to be able to measure the level of pain a patient feels. Many times they will over-prescribe or prescribe a high dose for a potential amount of discomfort, should the patient “possibly” experience an increase in pain. And many times they will unknowingly administer opiates to patients whose “pain” is no more than an actual full-blown addiction.
Doctors or “doctor shopping” is not the only pressing issue at hand when it comes to our countries prescription pain medication epidemic. Another large contributor to prescription drug addiction are those who still hoard their unused prescription medicine for future use and leave such in medicine cabinets, readily accessible to anyone who enters or resides in the home. Because of this type of drug hoarding, there has been a tremendous rise in the amount of teenage prescription drug abuse, as well as criminal acts such as break-ins and home burglaries, as prescription opiates become more expensive and less available on the streets, and more available in the bathrooms of our neighbors.
Unfortunately, with all of the above stated, it is not enough to monitor overzealous opiate prescribing doctors, pill-hoarding families, and tackle the criminal sales of opiates on the street. There is an issue at hand, and that issue is how we are dealing with pain in the first place. We have now adopted the “quick-fix” method and think pills are the answer to everything when there are non-medical ways to cope with chronic discomfort. Holistic drug-free treatments, which can include acupuncture, meditation, yoga, chiropractic care, aqua therapy, and the teachings of proper nutrition, have all been proven greatly effective in contributing to the relief of chronic pain. With these holistic methods being implemented by some of the most successful drug rehabilitation and treatment programs in our country and the growing number of opiate addictions today, doctors should without a doubt be required to explore these alternatives with their patients well before haphazardly writing another prescription for Oxycontin.