Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Why Is Prescription Drug Abuse on the Rise?


The number of opioid prescriptions written in the United States now equals the number of adults in the country, and things only seem to be getting worse. Legally-prescribed pain killers led to 1.9 million cases of addiction and 18,893 overdose deaths in 2014 alone. This corresponds to an increasing prevalence in pain in the United States.

Pain leaves its sufferers disabled and socially isolated. There is no doubt that it requires treatment. However, treatment usually means the use of opioid drugs, and while they are the most effective drug to treat it, they are also terribly addictive.

A guest post by Megan Ray Nichols

Some Prescription Drugs Are Chemically Similar to Narcotics

Opioids are a synthetic drug that inhibits the brain and body’s ability to feel pain. Chemically, they are remarkably similar to the predecessor of which it is a derived from, namely, the opium poppy, which is also used to produce heroin and morphine — some of the most addictive substances on Earth.

Other drugs, like Adderall, which is used to treat ADHD and is frequently abused by students and lots of other young adults trying to get a boost in concentration for their work and studies, is almost identical to methamphetamine. There is the perception that because some drugs, like OxyContin or Adderall, are FDA-approved and prescribed by a doctor, they are safe to use.

Both chemists and physicians know better, though. There just aren’t many alternatives in terms of drug therapy for sufferers yet.

Addiction Isn’t Always Obvious

And the images portrayed by many public health campaigns and anti-drug ads are misleading, further damaging efforts to really help those struggling with drug abuse. People who are addicted to drugs do not always look like the face-picking, emaciated “meth-head” that is so often depicted in the media — they can be highly functioning and successful people like bankers, pop stars, or your neighbors.

The inaccurate portrayal of addiction can lead people into a false sense of security in believing that they are in control of their habits, but like some of those famous aforementioned examples, denial of their drug addiction led to death. This is why if you or someone that you know is suffering from addiction, it’s important to seek help as soon as possible. Almost six percent of young adults report abusing prescription drugs — they are an especially important demographic because of the life-altering implications of substance abuse starting from an early age. The sooner you end the cycle of drug abuse, the easier recovery will be.

More Prescriptions Correlates to More Addiction


There are no easy solutions to this problem, but we can at least explore why prescription drug abuse has increased so much in recent years in the United States. Without understanding the origins of the problem, it’s unlikely we’ll find a proper fix. To be as simple as possible, the prescription drug crisis has its roots in the common availability of pain medication that was once far more strictly regulated. Opioids such as heroin have long been used in to relieve pain. But they were mostly used for the most extreme situations.

However, as recounted in the National Review, all of this changed in the 1980s, when the medical industry began using them to relieve long-term pain. OxyContin, released in 1996, represented the culmination of this trend. The drug is a controlled release of oxycodone, a potent opioid cultivated from the Persian poppy. It was also around this time that more powerful drugs like Adderall started being prescribed to “cure” hyperactivity.

Many quickly became addicted. Patients wouldn’t believe that something from a doctor could be harmful. This went on for an extended period of time for several reasons.

First, drugs like OxyContin were immensely profitable. It is estimated to have made Purdue Pharma, its producer, some $31 billion since its inception. Second, addiction risks were severely underestimated. In 2007, Purdue lost a lawsuit, claiming it misled patients about addiction risks. That was far too late. Today, an estimated 15 million people use prescription drugs recreationally in the U.S.

Authorities have, of course, cracked down in some ways on the over-prescription of legal prescription drugs. However, instead of taming that problem, it has created a huge and lucrative black market for prescription drugs as well as related drugs like heroin — and regulating Mexican drug cartels or smugglers tends to be more difficult than US-based pharmaceutical companies.

Solutions to the Crisis Require Both Drug Research and Behavioral Change

Fortunately, there are some solutions on the horizon. For one, we should develop pain and ADHD therapies that do not require addictive drugs. This could mean the development of new medicines, or it could mean increased research into alternative therapies. We also need fair and accurate drug education campaigns. Depicting all drug addicts as people having erratic behavior and terrible appearances misleads people into thinking that they do not have any problems with substance abuse because they do not look like the stereotype.

Finally, the U.S. needs to de-stigmatize addiction therapy. It shouldn’t surprise anyone to see elderly or successful people undergoing rehabilitation for addiction treatment, nor should they be penalized in their work or social lives.

Prescription drug abuse is on the rise, and both medical practitioners and policy makers need to take steps to address this issue before more lives are affected.

Post by Megan Ray Nichols