Prescription drug abuse is the fastest-growing drug problem in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the National Institutes of Health, offered some insights as to why at the National Drug Summit in April. She said pharmacies filled 219 million prescriptions for opiate-based painkillers in 2011. This is more than three times the number of similar prescriptions filled two decades earlier.
In the context of America's soaring prescription rates, it's been noted that in 2010 doctors prescribed enough painkillers to medicate every American adult around the clock for a month. This statistic is even more sobering when considering that one person dies every 19 minutes from a drug overdose in the U.S., an increasing trend driven by prescription painkillers.
Teen Vulnerability to Prescription Drug Misuse
Teens are particularly vulnerable. The National Institute on Drug Abuse says 7.4 percent of kids age 12 to 17 reported abusing prescription drugs last year. Prescription drug overdoses fueled a 91 percent increase in the poisoning death rate of teens 15 to 19 years old from 2000 to 2009, according to the CDC.
Cough medicine abuse is popular among teens, the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America says, with 2.4 million -- some one in 10 -- saying they've used it to get high. NIDA says teens often abuse prescription, as well as over-the-counter, drugs due to lack of information or incorrect information about drug safety. Because such drugs are subjected to government approval and dispensed legally, teens don't necessarily recognize the link between their proper usage and safety. That's why it's important to educate them about the risks that accompany misusing medicine.
Using Oxycodone as an example, NIDA points out on its website that crushing and inhaling the pills subjects a user's nervous system to an immediate dose intended to be released over 12 hours. This puts the user at risk of overdose and increases the likelihood of addiction.
NIDA also notes teens' limited awareness of potential drug side effects. They may know Adderall helps with attention, but don't realize that it raises blood pressure and increases the heart rate. A significant issue in themselves, side effects can be more problematic when a drug is used along with alcohol or other drugs. Mixing certain drugs with alcohol -- Valium, for example -- can be fatal, as both slow breathing.
When patients get prescriptions from doctors, they receive advice on proper use, as well as screening for risk factors. This doesn't happen when a teenager sneaks a pill bottle off a bathroom shelf.
Medicine Abuse Awareness Call to Action
The Medicine Abuse Project is launching an awareness week, Sept. 23 to 29, to draw attention to teen medicine abuse. The organization is asking parents, caretakers, and health providers to become informed and to talk to teens about the risks of prescription drug abuse. According to the project's website, there's 50 percent less likelihood of kids misusing drugs if their parents teach them about the dangers.
Getting rid of expired and unneeded prescription drugs in the nation's medicine chests is one of the project's goals. The Drug Enforcement Agency National Take-Back Initiative provides an online search mechanism for locating collection sites for unused prescription drugs throughout the nation. The DEA also has scheduled a Drug Take-Back Day, set for Sept. 29.
The Medicine Abuse Project encourages parents concerned their children are misusing medicine to seek support from Time to Get Help or call the Parents Toll-Free Helpline at 1-855-DRUGFREE.