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Thursday, February 3, 2011

Are the "Dirty Addicts" Really Us?

Prescription medications are now the second most commonly abused category of drugs, behind only marijuana. The National Institutes of Health estimates that nearly 20 percent of people in the United States have used prescription drugs such as painkillers, sedatives, tranquilizers or steroids for non-medical reasons.

Young people are particularly susceptible. In its first assessment of prescription drug abuse among high-school students in 2009, the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention found that 1 in 5 high-school students has taken a prescription drug without a doctor's prescription. Millions of young people think that because painkillers are prescribed, they’re safe. And if they’re safe, adolescent minds reason, they’re safe in any quantity or combination.  

The behavior isn't confined to any one age group. Seniors are vulnerable because they develop more painful disabilities, take so many prescriptions, and their metabolism changes with age. Among Americans 60 and older, more than 75 percent use two or more prescriptions, and 37 percent use five or more, according to the CDC.

U.S. Department of Health’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), reported that abuse of opioid painkillers has risen more than 400 percent over the last decade. SAMHSA also revealed that overdose deaths involving prescription drugs increased more than 200 percent from 2001 to 2007, and the number of treatment admissions for prescription opioids increased nearly 300 percent over the same time. These are shocking statistics for everyone.

What Do You Want Me To Do?

Average Joe and Average Jane repeatedly ask a very pertinent question about this alarming behavior: "What can I do to help?" The answer, of course, depends upon the individual and the level of commitment each person is willing to pledge. Realistically, the entire drug culture needs change. However, everyone can take basic steps to help alleviate Rx drug abuse. These requests require very simple personal actions that may save numbers of lives.

The Partnership For a Drug Free America has compiled a list of wonderful suggestions for Average Joe and Average Jane. Dr. Barbara Herbert includes many of these in a newspaper column she writes. (Dr. Barbara Herbert, "Fighting Prescription Drug Abuse," The Metro West Daily News, November 23 2010)

* Trust your doctor when addressing an illness. If your physician knows that a prescription medication won't do anything for your condition, don't ask for one.

* Ensure you're using these drugs precisely as directed. If you have any questions at all, check with your physician or pharmacist.

* Store medications safely, under lock and key, if necessary, so that they won't be susceptible to misuse or theft.

* Parents must be especially alert. Of youth age 12 to 17 who have abused pain relievers, 64 percent cite friends or relatives as their source, typically without their knowledge. Talk to your children about the misuse of prescription medication and the dangers it presents.

* If you care for an elderly person, take all steps to see that the patient understands how and when to take their medication. Advise other family members or caretakers as well.

The proper disposal of unused or out-of-date drugs is also critically important. Here's what the experts recommend.

* Bring them to a community drug take-back or household hazard waste program, if your community conducts such efforts. Recent take-back programs have been very successful in recovering these drugs and thus potentially taking them off the streets.

* Do not flush drugs down the toilet unless the label says it's OK to do so. Disposal in these ways can have an adverse impact on the environment, putting drugs into ground water and drinking water supplies.

* Throw in the trash only after crushing, mixing with an undesirable substance such as kitty litter or coffee grounds, and putting into a sealed container. Make sure you remove all personal identifying information from the bottle or package.

 A Change In Attitude 

Most importantly, people must rethink the nature of addiction. Addicts are not a "dirty breed" of people haunting the streets and alleys of America. Addiction knows no economic or social boundaries. Addiction rattles the closets of nearly every American family. Now is the time to bring the disease to light and expose it for what it really is and what it really does. Around the country, many brave Americans are beginning to do just that -- share their stories of broken lives, broken families, and broken dreams. They see the necessity of reaching out.

Addiction is basically you and me. We have all bought into the concept, to some extent, that "pills will cure all our ills." We have becoming trusting human guinea pigs who offer ourselves to the mercy of the growing pharmaceutical industry, the "snake oil" media, the under-informed doctors, and the self-regulated religion of the quick cure. A sick person in the United States begs for a prescription. Few seek any form of improvement program or alternative cure.

Addiction is a disease, not a series of injections for a "happy high." Like a deadly parasite, the drug becomes a gnawing, growing cancer that spreads infection throughout its victim. Once the malady weakens its host to the point of total dependency, the addict begins, literally, to die. So-called "bad people" die; so-called "good people" die -- the disease makes no distinction and offers no sympathy for its gorging appetite.

Raina Kelly of Newsweek reported the words of Dr. Marvin D. Seppala, chief medical officer of Hazelden, the nationally renowned addiction-treatment center:

"We are awash in prescription drugs. The U.S. Department of Health estimates that more than 50 percent of Americans take at least one prescribed pill a day. We are inundated by prescription commercials for ailments as varied as fibromialgia, erectile dysfunction, and depression. And no one seems to remember that the deaths of Heath Ledger and Anna Nicole Smith were hastened by a nasty cocktails of pharmaceuticals, with opiates found in both of their bloodstreams after death. 'I haven’t seen an adequate response yet,” Seppala said. 'Sadly it may take more celebrity overdoses before the country finally gets the message.' That is why I’m reminding us about this statistic now, off the news cycle, because it shouldn’t take the deaths of famous people to get our attention." (Raina Kelly, "Prescription Nation," Newsweek, August 8 2010)

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