Although a number of classes of prescription drugs are currently being abused, this action plan primarily focuses on the growing and often deadly problem of prescription opioid abuse. The number of prescriptions filled for opioid pain relievers—some of the most powerful medications available—has increased dramatically in recent years. From 1997 to 2007, the milligram per person use of prescription opioids in the U.S. increased from 74 milligrams to 369 milligrams, an increase of 402 percent. Further, opiate overdoses, once almost always due to heroin use, are now increasingly due to abuse of prescription painkillers.
There is a common misperception among many parents and youth that prescription drugs are less dangerous when abused than illegal drugs because they are FDA-approved. Many well-meaning parents do not understand the risks associated with giving prescribed medication to a teenager or another family member for whom the medication was not prescribed. Many parents are also not aware that youth are abusing prescription drugs; thus, they frequently leave unused prescription drugs in open medicine cabinets while making sure to lock their liquor cabinets.
In addition, prescribers and dispensers, including physicians, physicians assistants, nurse practitioners, pharmacists, nurses, prescribing psychologists, and dentists, all have a role to play in reducing prescription drug misuse and abuse. Most receive little training on the importance of appropriate prescribing and dispensing of opioids to prevent adverse effects, diversion, and addiction.
Proper Medication Disposal
Instead of flushing, prescription drugs should be disposed of in sealed plastic bags with filler such as coffee grounds or kitty litter. However, due to public health concerns, the FDA does recommend disposal via flushing for certain opioid pain relievers that can pose life-threatening risks from accidental ingestion.
In addition, a number of “patient”-centered abuses have evolved, most notably “doctor shopping.” Doctor shoppers visit multiple prescribers, in different locations within and outside of their states of residence, in order to receive controlled substances and other prescription drugs for diversion and/or abuse. These community-based problems require community-based solutions.