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Lethal Dangers - By Chris Gearing

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Lethal Dangers: The Dangers of Prescription Drug Abuse

August 27, 2009

Dr. Sylvia Gearing, TXA21 News

Monday’s announcement that the Los Angeles coroner has ruled Michael Jackson’s death a homicide has once again raised the issue of prescription drug abuse. According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, prescription drug abuse has almost doubled in an eleven-year span, with 15 million Americans abusing prescription drugs.

But why is prescription drug abuse growing at such alarming rates?

Addiction is a lifelong disease characterized by compulsive use of substances despite the adverse consequences. These drugs hijack the brain and the individual cannot stop on their own.

There are several reasons why prescription drug abuse is increasing:

  • Access to Drugs: We have more effective drugs that are more vigorously marketed to the public ($60 billion annually spent on marketing by pharmaceutical companies). Approximately three billion prescriptions are written annually, and we are all encouraged to take pills to make things better.
  • Non-Medical Use of Prescription Drugs: We have grown more casual in self-medicating and in borrowing prescriptions from friends and families. One study found that fifty-six percent of pain relief abusers acquired the medicine from a friend or relative for free (National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2007). An estimated 48 million people have used prescription drugs for non-medical reasons in their lifetimes (National Institute of Drug Abuse). This represents 20% of the U.S. population.
  • Invisible Epidemic: We have been in denial about the severity of this problem. Alcoholism and drug addiction have received the most media attention in the past. Prescription drug abuse has been the most underreported drug abuse problem in the nation (National Institute of Drug Abuse). Unfortunately, it is now an epidemic.

Leading researchers also shed light on what kinds of prescription drugs are being abused and why:

Painkillers Dominate Abuse: Stimulant prescriptions have increase sevenfold (five million to thirty five million) over the last sixteen years. Opioid painkiller prescriptions such as oxycodone and hydro condone have more than quadrupled (forty million to one hundred eighty million) and are the number one abuse prescription drug. Benzodiazepines such as xanax and ativan are also quite popular.

Depression Rates Climbing: Depression is ten times more prevalent than it was fifty years ago and it strikes a decade earlier than it did a generation ago. Prescription drugs, particularly painkillers and tranquilizers, offer an endorphin rush that is alluring and addictive. Pain relievers mimic the body’s endorphins, but they are more powerful and last longer. Addiction is easy to develop because of these factors.

Prescription drug addiction can develop for a variety of reasons, but most often it is due to the following:

Pain Management Attempts: A history of pain can begin the cycle of addiction without people realizing it. The majority of people who become addicted never imagine that they will be in this situation—they just want the pain to stop. Over time, the painkillers deceive the brain and mimic the wondrous endorphins in a more powerful and lasting way. Substituting anything (including abstinence) for that “glow” is unacceptable.

Trauma Background: Trauma is an insidious mental health issue, and we know that the earlier in life it is inflicted, the more pervasive and intense the damage. A history of trauma can predispose individuals to becoming addicted to a variety of drugs later in life. Since addiction is a brain disease, early traumatic experiences in particular can deregulate the brain. Many addiction specialists view prescription abuse as an attempt to emotionally self-regulate.

If you are worried about a loved one, here’s what you can do:

Recognize the Problem: Your denial is the first hurdle to overcome. Most prescription addictions begin with a doctor’s good intentions. The slurring, drowsiness, craving and erratic sleep in the new addict are the first signs of an increasing problem. Pay attention, stay committed to change and do not be bullied by their anger.

Licensed Substance Abuse Professional: Seek help from a licensed substance abuse professional to get the best intervention plan. They will help you develop a list of triggers, the signs of using and a plan for family intervention. Carefully crafted intervention plans are highly effective and are often the reason why people finally address their addictive behaviors.


When Painkillers Become Dangerous, Drew Pinsky, M.D.

Office of National Drug Control Policy

The National Institute on Drug Abuse

National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings, 2007

Prescription Drug

The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia

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