Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Guest Commentary: Communities in Crisis - Harmful Effects of Prescription Drug Abuse

Michael Toscani, PharmD
Project Director
Jefferson School of Population Health

The prescription drug abuse problem in the United States has reached enormous proportions, notably in our teenage population. Unintentional drug overdose death rates have risen steadily since 1970 and have increased roughly five-fold since 1990. According to National Vital Statistics, the death rate in 1970 was 1.23 per 100,000, and by 2007 it had risen to 9.18 per 100,000. A 2008 survey found that 61% of teens feel that prescription drugs are easier to obtain than illegal drugs.

Many teens (40%) believe that prescription drugs, even if they are not prescribed by a physician, are much safer to use than illegal drugs, and almost a third believe that it is okay to use prescription drugs without a physician’s prescription. A recent report from the NIH indicated that the trial use of opioids by individuals by 12th grade has risen to 4.7% for Oxycontin (oxycodone) and 9.7% for Vicodin (hydrocodone). Most teens (58%) say they obtain their prescription meds from their family’s medicine cabinet, and 42% say that these medications are widely available.

I’ve had the opportunity to participate in many educational sessions on this topic over the past several years observing views from law enforcement, pain management and addiction specialists, and students in a designated recovery high school and their principal. Some of the key take away messages from these programs include:

1. Lock your meds in a limited access area and keep an inventory of the products.
2. You can dispose of unused medications by flushing them down the toilet.
3. Never let anyone use a medication that has not been prescribed for them.
4. Addiction is a neurobiologic disease. Once high risk individuals come in contact with an addictive substance, they are driven to seek that “high” at all costs to them and their families. There are several assessment tools that can be used to predict risk of drug abuse, such as the ORT (Opioid Risk Tool).
5. Most students begin their habit with gateway products such as marijuana and/or alcohol, progressing to Rx products and, at times, to more potent or potentially dangerous illicit substances.
6. Parents should have discussions with their children about these risks and if a problem surfaces, seek immediate treatment from professional sources.
7. Addiction is a chronic relapsing disease, but there is hope for recovery from treatment centers, recovery high schools and programs, and support groups.
8. Health professionals and law enforcement can play critical roles in reducing misuse and abuse of prescription medications and serve as key educational resources for the community.

Stay informed on this public health issue !!!

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