23 July 2010

Why Are So Many People Addicted to Pain Meds? Numbers Up 400 Percent

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Prescription Drug Addiction

From Denny: Something is wrong in America. Far too many people are in pain and now addicted to pain medications. It could be attributed to the fact that the largest ever generation, the Baby Boomers, are growing old and experiencing all the issues that go with older age. Yet the reality is this study reports the increase cuts across all ages, gender, level of education and employment status. "It cuts across all age groups and socioeconomic levels," says Rob Covin, author of "Overcoming Prescription Drug Addiction."

Rehab Admissions up 400 percent past decade

It is alarming how many drug addicts have been checking into rehab, people who abuse prescription medications. In just ten years this has risen 400 percent and is unprecedented, this according to a study released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Back in 1998 it was only 2.2 percent of people seeking treatment for addiction to pain relievers yet the number kept increasing steadily over recent years. By 2008, it was up to nearly 10 percent who reported they were addicted to commonly known brand name drugs like Vicodin, OxyContin or even morphine.

More people choosing to get treatment is up

Peter Delany, director of the Office of Applied Studies at SAMHSA, who conducted the study, says this spike is "a reflection of a steady increase in the prevalence of the issue. In a way it's a good news/bad news story. People are getting treatment, which is good news. But the bad news is the problem just keeps growing. People look at these medications and because it's a prescription, they don't think it's as dangerous. But the dangers of prescription drug abuse become clearer with every year."

Emergency room visits double in four year period

What's alarming is that SAMHSA found that from the period of 2004 to 2008 emergency room visits associated with prescription drug overdose more than doubled.

"This has been a trend coming for 10 years," says Steve Pasierb, president and CEO of A Partnership for a Drug-Free America. "It should be no surprise that now it is showing up in ER visits and people checking into treatment centers. Despite its prevalence, prescription drug addiction is still a poorly understood issue in America. We have to struggle with overturning the public misperceptions. I'm hoping this report can be like a cold, wet slap in the public's face to wake up to the fact that this is an actual, real public problem."

Prescription drug addiction spans all age groups, teens to middle age

Talk about spanning the age groups. One in five teenagers report they like to get high on prescription drugs (data from: A Partnership for a Drug-Free America). On the opposite end of the age spectrum, the 45 to 54 age group, there's a surge in prescription drug overdoses. It's the second leading cause of accidental death in that age group.

How did this happen to people?

So why is it America is struggling with this high level of a prescription drug problem? Pasierb believes it may be how Americans view medications. "There's such a low perception of risk involved with these drugs. People think because they're FDA approved, then they aren't dangerous or addictive and that increases the likelihood of use."

As Colvin notes, "Many people also assume that addiction cannot happen to them. We hear about it when a celebrity dies but we don't hear about the families that deal with it every day."

How do people get a hold of drugs so easily?

Another reason for the drugs' appeal is how easily available they are. You get one guess as to where the drug addict's number one source for easy access to drugs is located. Yes, the family medicine cabinet. Those who are prescribed the medicines legitimately - and then don't use them - often end up holding onto the drugs, stashed away for a time when they think they might need them. "Hundreds of millions of these pills are sitting in medicine cabinets in every state. It's no shock that abuse rates are so high," says Pasierb. "You don't have to go to the scary drug dealer, you can steal it from Grandma."

President Obama's awareness program

Since this report, President Obama is making a concerted effort to increase awareness among the public with education on prescription medication. The program is the 2010 National Drug Control Strategy, Delany says.

Addiction experts warn us that the problem is not going to improve any time soon. "It's going to take a long concerted effort to slow down the progression of this problem before we can expect to turn it around," says Pasierb.

Of course, it's obvious that public awareness and education is not going to stem the tide of this level of addiction. It will require doctors to make changes in the way they prescribe medications and how children are educated in schools. Another front for change is the way aw enforcement tracks and prosecutes prescription fraud.

Practice of Doctor Shopping

The practice of "doctor shopping" is a serious problem where people build up large stashs of prescription drugs. At the moment there are 39 states with prescription monitoring programs in place to prevent this practice. "The problem is, these states don't talk to each other, so people just hop on a plane and go somewhere else for their prescriptions," Pasierb says.

Covin also noted that "Illegally selling prescription drugs also tends to receive less attention by the law enforcement because illicit drugs get much of the focus. Family doctors often lack the skills needed to recognize and treat prescription drug addiction. Because prescription drug addicts don't carry some of the more visible warning signs that those abusing cocaine or heroine might, the condition often goes undiagnosed."

How to prevent drug addiction

People always think it won't happen to them. "People think this addiction is a moral issue so it won't happen to them, when in fact it is a disease - a chronic, progressive disease. If you don't get help, it will become fatal," Covin says. "People just don't seem to understand that."

Pasierb advises: "Don't have prescription narcotics on hand if you don't need them. And if you do need them for medical reasons, keep them out of reach of kids and teens. It's a complicated issue and it's going to take a lot of changes on the policy, medical and education front. But if people just cleaned out their medicine cabinet tonight of unnecessary prescription narcotics, it would make a difference immediately."

Pain Med Addiction Up 400 Percent in Last Decade
Numbers of Addicts Seeking Rehab Spikes

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