by Kimberly Allen, RN
Abuse of prescription drugs has been steadily increasing and while it is more prevalent in the US it is also a significant public health issue in many areas around the world. In the US, over 2,500 teens 12 to 17 ears of age will abuse a prescription pain pill for the first time everyday. In fact, in just the US alone, over 15 million people abuse prescription drugs. That is more than cocaine, hallucinogens, heroine and inhalants combined. Along with the steady increase in prescription drug abuse has come an increase in drug overdose death rates. The death rates from drug overdose in the US has more than tripled since the 1990’s and the greatest percentage of these are due to prescription drugs. At least 100 people die in the US everyday from drug overdoses. The drugs responsible for most of the deaths are opioids, antidepressants and depressants. These drugs are responsible for a higher percent of deaths than cocaine, heroine, amphetamines and methamphetamine combined.
What was once considered an inner city problem had made it’s way to the suburbs. So why is there such increasing prevalence? Most experts agree there are a variety of reasons that differ depending on age and gender as well as other factors. However, certain facts do stand out, for example, the number of prescriptions for certain medications has increased significantly since the ’90’s. Prescriptions for stimulants has increased by eight times while the number of prescriptions for opioids has increased by four times. Many experts also believe that with the significant advances in both the medical and pharmaceutical fields there is a mentality that if something ails you take a pill and you’ll be fine. Many also believe there is the idea many people have that taking prescription drugs is safer than taking the illegal drugs. Not even close. First of all many of the “prescription” drugs are derived from the same plants as the illegal drugs are or they are synthetically made to be identical to them. this means that your”safer” prescription drugs act on the same brain systems, either directly or indirectly, that the illegal drugs do. For this reason non-medical use of prescription drugs has substantial liabilities for abuse as well as addiction, which in turn can cause a variety of other health problems.
Although the use of stimulants for non-medical purposes is currently higher than that of opiates, or pain killers, the incidence of prescription pain killers is growing and becoming a deadly epidemic in America. Current estimates are that approximately 3 out of 4 overdoses by prescription drugs are due to prescription pain killers. In fact there is a direct correlation between the unprecedented increase in deaths by overdose to the 300% increase in the sale of prescription pain killers since 1999. The number of visits to the emergency room for prescription pain killer overdose have doubled in just 5 years.
In 2010 over 12 million people reported having used prescription painkillers for non-medical purposes and experts say that number has gone up. Remember, that’s just the number of people that reported using them and you can be sure there are close to that many that haven’t reported using them. This means the number of people in the US using prescription painkillers, as well as other prescription drugs is much higher.
There are currently numerous bills and proposals in various states as well as Congress aimed at combating the issue. this is a serious issue and has a serious impact not only on the youth but on health care and health care costs as well.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.