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The Epidemic of Prescription Drug Abuse

The Epidemic of Prescription Drug Abuse

On 3 Sep 2015, in substance abuse

By Cynthia Hovis, MSW, LCSW

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has classified prescription drug abuse as an epidemic. 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 show that nearly one-third of people aged 12 and over who used drugs for the first time began by using a prescription drug non-medically.

Some individuals who misuse prescription drugs, particularly teens, believe these substances are safer than illicit drugs because they are prescribed by a health care professional and dispensed by a pharmacist. This illusion of safety has resulted in overdose deaths from prescription painkillers quadrupling in recent years, from 4,030 deaths in 1999 to 16,651 in 2010.

Prescription medications are often a necessary part of medical interventions, pain management and health maintenance. It is vitally important to fully understand medications and their proper use (purpose, dosage, side effects, duration, shelf life and storage). Abuse of medications, dependence or even addictions can begin with simple and unintentional misuse. It can range from sharing medicines with others, using medications for purposes other than prescribed or intended or using a medication more at a higher dosage or frequency than prescribed.

Drug addictions are not just something that happens to someone else or to a certain type of person. It often starts in the medicine cabinet at home with the legitimate treatment of pain or illness that gets out of hand when someone becomes tolerant or dependent on the medications.  Quite frequently pain management that is stopped or becomes less effective can lead a person to seek alternative sources of relief out of discomfort and desperation to feel better. Self-medication is a very dangerous practice, regardless of if one is utilizing prescriptions, over the counter medicines, alcohol or illegal substances.

Awareness, self-advocacy and planning are combatants. Talk through your medications carefully and completely with your doctor or pharmacist to make sure you understand them. Use medicines as prescribed and talk to your doctor before stopping to lessen adverse side effects. Keep your medications locked in a safe place to prevent them getting into the wrong hands by accident, curiosity or theft. Be aware of self-medicating -- even things like a daily drink to calm the nerves or allergy medicine to help you sleep can be indicators of issues. Make a point of discussing these with your doctor.

If you are concerned about drug use for yourself or a loved one, contact BJC EAP. Even if you are not sure if it’s a “problem” or not, we can help you figure out what may be needed next or explore available resources for treatment and support. Call 314.729.4030.

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