The abuse of prescription painkillers in the United States has reached epic proportions. In 2008 drug overdose rates have more than tripled since 1990. More than 12 million people reported using prescription painkillers non-medically in 2010, that is, using them without a prescription or for the feeling they cause.
The 3 Categories of Prescription Painkillers
Basically, there are three categories of prescription drugs that have contributed to this epidemic:
Opioids – used for pain relief including hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxycodone (OxyContin, Percocet), fentanyl (Duragesic, Fentora), methadone, and codeine.
Benzodiazepines – sedatives used to induce sleep, prevent seizures, and relieve anxiety – Xanax, Valium, and Ativan.
Amphetamines – stimulants used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – Adderal, Ritalin, and Concerta.
More than three out of four people who misuse prescription painkillers use drugs prescribed to someone else. Those most at risk include individuals who obtain multiple prescriptions from different prescribers, people who take high dosages of prescription painkillers, low-income people and those living in rural areas and people living with mental illness or who have a history of substance abuse.
What’s Being Done?
So what is being done to stem the tide of prescription drug abuse? Prescription monitoring programs were first created in 1990 and today 48 states and one territory have some kind of system in place to track the distribution of prescription drugs (Alliance of States with Prescription Monitoring Programs).
In New York State, the Michael David Israel Laws, named after the young man who completed suicide after becoming addicted to prescription painkillers, has become a prime mover in bringing about changes in how these drugs are dispensed along with providing training for doctors. In addition, these laws include a Patient Information Act, Addiction Transition Law, and a Controlled Substance Registry Reform Act.
It’s my personal belief that we need to do more to educate about the dangers of prescription drug abuse. Also, on a personal level, we all need to ensure that these drugs are not able to be accessed in our homes by our children. As long as people have easy access to these medications we will continue to see these problems continue. Hopefully, through the utilization of prescription monitoring and associated programs we can reverse this dangerous trend.