Drugs May Be Hazardous To Your Health: Fascinating Excerpts from the Federal Report "Epidemic: Responding To America's Prescription Drug Abuse Crisis"
Prescription drug abuse is the Nation’s fastest-growing drug problem. While there has been a marked decrease in the use of some illegal drugs like cocaine, data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) show that nearly one-third of people aged 12 and over who used drugs for the first time in 2009 began by using a prescription drug non-medically. The same survey found that over 70 percent of people who abused prescription pain relievers got them from friends or relatives, while approximately 5 percent got them from a drug dealer or from the Internet. Additionally, the latest Monitoring the Future study—the Nation’s largest survey of drug use among young people—showed that prescription drugs are the second most-abused category of drugs after marijuana.
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.
A crucial first step in tackling the problem of prescription drug abuse is to raise awareness through the education of parents, youth, patients, and healthcare providers. Although there have been great strides in raising awareness about the dangers of using illegal drugs, many people are still not aware that the misuse or abuse of prescription drugs can be as dangerous as the use of illegal drugs, leading to addiction and even death.
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
In order to protect human health and the environment, it is vital that collected prescription drugs be appropriately disposed of in an environmentally safe manner. Thus, prescription drugs collected from individuals are to be disposed of in accordance with Federal, state, and local laws and regulations. Until prescription drug disposal programs are available to all communities, an important environmental safety message in the fight against improper medication disposal is to recommend against flushing prescription drugs with the few exceptions noted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
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.
Along with the increased legitimate use of prescription opioid medications in healthcare settings, there is also a small group of practitioners who abuse their prescribing privileges by prescribing these medications outside the usual course of professional practice or for illegitimate purposes. This has, in some areas, resulted in practitioners illegally prescribing and/or dispensing prescription controlled substances and other prescription drugs under the banner of medical care. These providers and clinics not only endanger the individuals receiving these medications, but also pose serious threats to the communities where they are located.
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.
Summary and Call to Action
Research and medicine have provided a vast array of medications to cure disease, ease suffering and pain, improve the quality of life, and save lives. This is no more evident than in the field of pain management. However, as with many new scientific discoveries and new uses for existing compounds, the potential for diversion, abuse, morbidity, and mortality are significant. Prescription drug misuse and abuse is a major public health and public safety crisis. As a Nation, we must take urgent action to ensure the appropriate balance between the benefits these medications offer in improving lives and the risks they pose. No one agency, system, or profession is solely responsible for this undertaking. We must address this issue as partners in public health and public safety. Therefore, ONDCP will convene a Federal Council on Prescription Drug Abuse, comprised of Federal agencies, to coordinate implementation of this prescription drug abuse prevention plan and will engage private parties as necessary to reach the goals established by the plan.
Unless otherwise attributed, all content is written by Kyle Johnson, DC, of Johnson Family Chiropractic of Peoria.
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