Prescription Drug Misuse

Light has been shed on an alarming number of people abusing prescription medication. So what’s being done to tackle this problem?

In a time of recession and financial insecurities many people are struggling underneath the weight of pressure. To alleviate that pressure, coping mechanisms are sought after and one method in particular has witnessed a particular increase in the last few years. The rise in prescription drug misuse is now sadly an addiction to a lot of individuals who were simply seeking some form of help. Even more worrying is the realisation that this dependency is rising in young adults. According to the National Council on Parent Information and Education, one in five youths – or 4.5m young people – are currently abusing prescription drugs.

Though these statistics paint a very worrying picture, the 2011 National Survey on Drug Use and Health claims that prescription drug misuse is on the decline, falling by 14 per cent among those aged 18 to 25. Although there is an improvement in this age bracket, prescription drug misuse among children aged 12 to 17 and adults over 26-years-old remain unchanged. So what needs to be done to stop this?

The administrator for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Pamela Hyde commented, ‘Behind each of these statistics are individuals, families and communities suffering from the consequences of abuse and addiction. We must continue to promote robust prevention, treatment and recovery programs.’

Gil Kerlikowske, the director of National Drug Control Policy, believes the problem can be eradicated with the right approaches. ‘Drug use […] creates too many obstacles to opportunity – especially for young people,’ said Kerlikowske. ‘The good news is that we are not powerless against this problem. By emphasizing prevention and treatment, as well as smart law enforcement efforts that break the cycle of drug use, crime and incarceration, we know we can reduce drug use and its consequences.’

Role models
Are cases in the public eye having a detrimental effect on the prevention of prescription drug misuse? After all, news stories have been recurring since 2008 when Heath Ledger was found dead before the age of 30 from an overdose. The autopsy revealed oxycodone, hydrocodone, diazepam, temazepam, alprazolam and doxylamine in his body, all of which are prescribed medications for insomnia, anxiety, depression, pain and common cold symptoms. Are people in fragile states of mind being influenced by what they see on the news? As recently as February this year, Whitney Houston was found dead with traces of Benadryl, Xanax and Flexiril in her system, while rapper Eminem’s battles with an addiction to methadone nearly cost him his life.
‘These findings show that national efforts to address the problem of prescription drug misuse may be beginning to bear fruit,’ argues Hyde. ‘We must continue to apply this pressure to drive down this and other forms of substance use.’

Teenage worries
However, 90 per cent of addictions start in teenage years according to The Medicine Abuse Project, a campaign launched recently in response to the increase in prescription drug abuse among teenagers in the last decade. Prescription and over-the-counter medications are cheap and easily obtainable. According to The Project, two-thirds of teens who report prescription drug misuse admit to getting them from friends, family and acquaintances. An online pledge has been set up on their website which has so far attracted just under 5,000 signatures. The pledge is designed for people to stand up and take notice of the problem, and address the issue. Seven points of action have been set up, the first of which is signing the pledge; others include educating yourself and sharing what you already know.
The problem has been exposed and, with it being cast under a spotlight, campaigns such as The Medicine Abuse Project will make sure it’s no longer kept in the dark. With a growing number of people increasing their efforts in the prevention of this abuse, the results of the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health could make for interesting reading.
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  • One in six teens has used prescription drugs in order to get high or change their mood
  • Only six per cent of parents of teens say they have a child who abused medicine, however 10 per cent of teens admit to misusing/abusing medicines in the past six months.
  • Opioid pain relievers are responsible for more overdose deaths than cocaine and heroin combined

The Medicine Abuse Project’s Seven Points of Action:

1) Take the pledge
2) Safeguard your medicine
3) Dispose unused medicine properly
4) Educate yourself
5) Share what you know
6) Talk to your children
7) Get external help

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