When people hear the words “drug abuse,” most immediately think of illegal street drugs like marijuana, cocaine, and heroin. Unless they have been personally touched by other forms of substance abuse, most people don’t realize that some of the most abused drugs in America are prescription drugs, the kinds doctors distribute.
But the facts are stark, and the authorities have taken notice if the public has not. The US Office of National Drug Abuse Policy says that prescription drug abuse is the “fastest growing drug problem” in America today, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently said that prescription drug abuse in the United States is an epidemic. It is now the leading cause of accidental death in the United States.
Many people don’t realize that a person taking prescription drugs that were not prescribed specifically to that person is breaking the law. Perhaps the worst part of this trend is that, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, almost one-third of people over the age of 12 who abused drugs for the first time in 2009 were abusing prescription drugs. These pills are quickly becoming the new gateway drug for millions of people, many under the age of 18.
Prescription drugs are easy to obtain. Many people have them in their medicine cabinets. Still others share prescription pain killers and other drugs with friends and family, thinking if the drug helped their pain, it can help someone else’s. Still others obtain prescription drugs illegally on the streets.
These drugs do not come from unknown sources such as foreign drug cabals, clandestine grow houses, or meth labs. They are legally developed, manufactured, and promoted by powerful drug companies. Sure, the goal of this process is to forward medical science and help people overcome pain and disease. But the other motive is corporate profit, so people see many of these drugs advertised in the media.
Because these pills are everywhere and easily obtainable, because your mother might have them in her bathroom, people don’t think of the potential dangers. In fact, prescription drugs taken without a doctor’s supervision are extremely dangerous.
A case in point is the popular drug Ritalin, commonly prescribed to treat hyperactivity and ADHD in both children and adults. Known also as MPH or Methylphenidate, Ritalin is a powerful stimulant that when abused causes a high similar to cocaine. But because the drug is widely prescribed, it is widely abused, especially among teens. Ritalin has a host of adverse side effects, and long-term abuse, especially by growing teenagers, can cause brain damage and psychotic symptoms and can trigger serious mental health disorders.
Preventing Prescription Drug Abuse Requires Diligent Action Now
In theory, prescription drugs are controlled by law. Only doctors are supposed to distribute these drugs to treat very specific illnesses and medical problems. While a black market for prescription drugs has evolved to meet the growing demand, law enforcement is usually focused on street drugs like cocaine and marijuana, so prescription drugs often fly under the radar.
But the federal government has a plan for turning back this trend, and it depends on all of us. Most people are powerless to prevent a crack dealer from opening up shop in town, but they can help stop prescription drug abuse. The government plan calls for education about the adverse effects, monitoring programs on the state level to curb abuse by doctors and patients, proper disposal of unused prescription drugs, and stepped-up law enforcement.
The government also encourages everyone to do their part by carefully guarding prescription drugs in the home, following disposal guidelines more carefully, talking to children and young adults about the dangers of abusing prescription drugs, and encouraging anyone abusing these drugs to seek treatment.
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