Increasing Incidence and Prevalence of Prescription Drug Abuse and Addiction
In the past year, prescription painkillers, like Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet have become America’s second most prevalent illegal drug problem after marijuana. When you include other prescription drugs, such as tranquilizers, stimulants and sedatives, the problem becomes even larger and is the “number one” drug abuse and addiction problem in America today.
There are three classes of prescription drugs that are most commonly abused:
- opioids such as codeine, oxycodone, and morphine;
- central nervous system (CNS) depressants such as barbiturates and benzodiazepines;
- stimulants such as dextroamphetamine and methylphenidate.
Prescription drug abuse and addiction among young people ages 12-17 is also reported as the second most abused illegal drug, behind marijuana. In actual numbers, marijuana is by far the leading illegal drug of abuse with this age group, but in analyzing the growth trend, prescription drug abuse is closing the gap at an alarming pace, exemplified by the fact that teens have recently been turning away from street drugs and choosing prescription drugs to get high. The numbers of new users of prescription drugs are reported being equal to new users of marijuana. Certainly, that is an alarming statistic.
There are a number of considerations that support this new drug abuse trend:
- Consider the fact that many young people are prescribed Ritalin and Adderall for their restlessness and inability to stay focused in the classroom. This condition has been given a morbid psychiatric label of ADD/ADHD (Attention Deficit Disorder/ Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) A high percentage of these young people sell or share their “medications” with their peers.
- Consider the highly prevalent advertisements for sleeping aids, tranquilizers and other mood-altering drugs on commercial television that strongly suggest that life is better with chemical support.
- Millions of parents are given these prescription drugs by their physicians. This action condones the efficacy of needing a drug to feel more normal or to increase ones abilities.
- The majority of teens are getting prescription drugs for free and more easily than traditional street drugs (ex. from their home medicine cabinets)
- The practice of physicians prescribing OxyContin, Vicodin and other opiate painkillers to young people who complain of chronic pain or have an acute injuries is becoming more and more common.
- Consider the challenge and psychological thrill some teens feel in taking a drug that others are touting to be “the same as heroin.” (OxyContin has been called the businessman’s heroin and when it is injected, heroin users report that it feels very similar.)
Because of the liberal prescribing practices of many physicians throughout the country, our society is facing an opiate-medication and prescription drug epidemic. Nearly half of all requests from individuals seeking drug rehab are related to addiction problems associated with opiate prescription drug use.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that there are 50 million Americans suffering from chronic pain who find it difficult to locate healthcare providers who will prescribe an adequate level of pain medications to alleviate their pain. Many websites for professionals suggest that most healthcare providers have a fear of prescribing opiate pain medications because of their “opiophobia” (fear that patients will become addicted to this pain medication). These messages indicate that the government and other authorities are supporting opiate painkillers over the physicians reluctance to use these addictive substances.
This is an example of our culture’s orientation to prescribing drugs to handle medical symptoms, since pain is always a symptom of an originating problem and an indicator that there is a physiological stress that needs to be addressed. Treating only the pain can lead to ignoring the original source of the problem. Enormous profits are realized from the sale of opiate pain medications that, unfortunately, drives the underlying philosophy of our medical practice in America.
A large majority of the methadone maintenance patients in America started their opiate painkiller addiction from prescribed painkillers.
Because of the pain and suffering associated with the withdrawal symptoms from opiate painkillers, many patients exaggerate their level of pain to their physicians to help the doctors document their reliance on pain medications. Intake counselors at Narconon drug rehab centers report that it is not uncommon with adult enrollees, seeking detox from pain medications, to state that their actual, original pain has subsided for years, but they had been unable to confront withdrawal from these medications.
America’s healthcare providers need to be guided by the medical principle – “Above all else, do no harm.”
Alternative pain management and treatment should be the order of the day when one considers the suffering that attends addiction to these medications.
Drug Prevention, Education, and Information Department