Illegal drugs have always had a negative image in the culture of modern America. They’re usually thought of as only used by the fringes of society, and definitely not used by what society considers upstanding citizens.
However, history has proven that the doors in America have long been held open by all levels of society for the use of all types of drugs. In the 19th century, patent drugs not only contained but also promoted the drug use of morphine and cocaine, both of which were available at the corner drugstore without a prescription. Society had little, if any, stigma associated with their use. The “Coca” in Coca Cola was cocaine. It wasn’t until 1929 that all traces of it was removed.
The Epidemic of Addiction to Prescription Drugs
American society hasn’t changed as much as you may thing from those early days. We’ve created new and different types of drugs and added minor legal stipulations for their use. But while the social stigma still exists for illegal drugs, it’s become almost fashionable to use and have a prescription for Xanax. Americans love their prescription drugs! They love them so much that America is in the middle of an epidemic where it comes to prescription drugs. More people die every day in America from addiction to prescription drugs than from car accidents, gunshot wounds, or suicide. The misuse of prescription medication results in approximately 100 people every day losing their lives.
Addiction to painkillers is widespread across all levels of American society. Among celebrities, painkiller addiction is a major health hazard, many pointing to the reason for their downward spirals to their dependence on prescription painkillers such as Vicodin, OxyContin, and oxycodone. In spite of it’s negative aspect, Hollywood’s penchant for prescription drugs give impressionable people, such as fans, the idea that abusing drugs is okay. They want to be part of the “hip” Hollywood scene, and start to go to the better known “feel good” doctors to get their own prescription drugs so they can be like their screen idols.
Senior Addiction to Prescription Drugs
Prescription drug addiction isn’t just for the down-and-out or the young-and-hip these days. In the U.S. there are over 300,000 seniors who abuse their medications by misusing them. A USA Today report states, “Hundreds of thousands of the nation’s seniors are misusing prescription drugs, spurred by a medical community that often is quick to offer narcotic pain killers, anxiety medications and other pharmaceuticals for everything from joint pain to depression. And despite a push by public health officials to slash dispensing rates, doctors are prescribing the highly addictive drugs at record levels.”
The abuse of prescription drugs is both painful and costly, a situation that prescription drug abuse is inflicting painful and costly trauma on our nation, injury that summons the attention of both government and private agencies. There are many problems and issues caused by the prescription drugs problem. These types of drugs are widely available to a public who is clamoring for them. But there are consequences to their uncontrolled use. A starting point to help counter this addiction problem may be to target those who are most susceptible to becoming easily addicted.
Who Gets Addicted to Prescription Drugs and How?
One key aspect for the rising rates of addiction is the widespread availability of prescription drugs. Many doctors and patients alike know that a pill is the easiest and quickest way to take care of symptoms. In turn, patients trust their doctor will legitimately prescribe the pills that will be the answer to their prayers to relieve their painful ailments. The majority of people think that if a doctor prescribes drugs that are then filled by a reputable pharmacist, that they will be safe. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case, especially if the drugs aren’t used properly.
Of all the groups in society affected by drug abuse, the most surprising and alarming involves the addiction by seniors. Seniors being addicted to drugs isn’t an image most people have. These citizens are veterans of tough times younger Americans can’t even conceive of.
As people approach their senior years, things can become painful. Backs, hips, knees, elbows, ankles, and hands, all tend to be sources of pain making a normal life, like they had when they were younger, difficult and many times impossible. Doctors are quick to prescribe medications to kill the pain, many with major side effects as well as being highly addictive.
When seniors take pain medication for chronic problems, many times they build up a tolerance and resistance. When this occurs, they may ask their doctors for stronger medication or a larger number of pills. Dosages increase as time goes on, and when they reach a limit, seniors may decide on their own to take more pills to try and kill the pain. This leads to dependence and many times result in the devastating consequences of death.
The toll is enormous in the senior community with the rise of deaths caused by drug overdoses, increased emergency room admittances, and increased addiction treatment program admissions. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (i.e., “SAMHSA”) reports that between 2007 and 2011, there was a 46% increase in prescription narcotics cases for people 55 and older.
For those people who never thought they were addicts, prescription drugs are a new twist when they realize they’ve become addicted to them.
A few years ago, law enforcement became concerned about OxyContin, a new prescription pain killer that was commonly prescribed. Due to it’s abuse in communities in the Appalachians, it became known as “hillbilly heroin.” There were many “pill mills” in Florida that were the source of OxyContin as well as other prescription pain killers in many Southern states.
As the price of pain killers rose, due to their demand, users realized heroin produced the same desired effect and had the other desired effect of costing less. As a result, OxyContin became the “gateway” drug that led many to heroin addiction. Almost 700,000 Americans used heroin last year, twice the number from a decade ago. Some of these heroin addicts were from highly regarded groups from professional backgrounds.
The Charlotte Carolinas Medical Center was trying to get a better understanding about some of their patients who were entering for heroin detox. These professional people included lawyers, nurses, police, and even ministers, all of whom were considered high achievers in their communities. When asked why and how they became heroin addicts, they had a common answer, “We used to take pills, but now we inject heroin.”
A National Institute on Drug Abuse spokesperson recently told CNN News that almost half of the young people who inject heroin have said they originally abused prescription opioids before they turned to heroin. Their path of “legitimate” drug user to heroin addict was a short one.
California’s CURES Answer to Abuse of Prescription Drugs
California is leading other state governments by addressing the prescription drug problem with the Triplicate Prescription Program (i.e., “TPP”) designed to tackle the problem. The Triplicate Prescription Program was created in 1939 to capture and collect information on Schedule II prescription drugs. Prescription drugs classified as Schedule II include Hydrocodone, Vicodin, and OxyContin.
In 1999 the TPP program was incorporated into and replaced by the Controlled substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System (i.e., “CURES”). The CURES database is designed to be a valuable tool for regulatory boards, the health care community, and law enforcement to be used for investigation, prevention, and education, and contains information about Schedule II through IV controlled substances that are dispensed in California. The program seeks to promote increased awareness about prescription drug abuse without interfering with the legitimate prescribing by physicians of drugs for patient care. It also attempts to prevent the diversion practice of controlled substances being “diverted” into the hands of people who don’t have any legal or legitimate reason to use them.
California’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (i.e., “PDMP”) was introduced in 2009 and is a searchable client-oriented part of CURES. Its function is to gather Schedule II to IV substance prescription information about who they were dispensed to in order to help diversion awareness and to intervene potential prescription drug abusers. The principle behind PDMP is that pharmacists and medical prescribers will use their professional skills to identify and assist the abusers of controlled substances.
PDMP permits authorized users such as licensed health care providers and pharmacists who are allowed to prescribe controlled substances, as well as law enforcement and regulatory boards, to access patient history for controlled substances contained in the CURES database. PDMP is dedicated to assisting pharmaceutical drug diversion without affecting the legitimate prescribing of drugs by the medical profession for patient care.
Getting Around the CURES System
Although programs such as California’s CURES program addresses the drug abuse problem by trying to control the legal avenues by which potential drug addicts get their drugs, there are other avenues and methods drug abusers can use to obtain controlled substances. Most of the drug abuse problem is the result of these illicit avenues used to procure these controlled substances.
National surveys indicate the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have discovered that about 60% of people who use prescription painkillers without a prescription, or just for the feeling they get, obtain the drugs from friends or family. About 17%, one in six, of people have reported that the most recent prescription painkillers they got was prescribed by one doctor.
When people use drugs obtained through family and friends, they’re more likely to also turn to other sources, like drug dealers. The CDC has discovered large numbers of people die due to prescription painkiller overdoses where the drugs used were obtained without a prescription. It’s difficult to determine the exact number due to the fact the information sources are either not available or inaccurate. One interesting fact is that women more than men tend to begin with prescription drugs then move to non-medical reasons for taking them.
Convenience of Prescription Drugs as an Easy Fix
A quick observation relating to America’s prescription drug epidemic is the fact that it’s involved with what we value as a nation. Americans tend to value easy fixes and convenience. What is easier than popping a few pills? As the cliche goes, it’s “just what the doctor ordered,” in more ways than one.
In many circumstances prescription drugs are necessary and lifesaving, but the fact is increasingly apparent that there’s a strong correlation between taking prescription drugs and becoming addicted to prescription drugs.
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