Are you surprised at the number of news reports you see and hear today about abuse of prescription medications? Prescription drug abuse prevention is currently an increasingly serious problem nationwide. According to government statistics from studies by the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), more than 2.4 million Americans abuse prescription drugs annually. Females make up more than half this number, and at least one-third of abusers are between the ages of 12 and 17. Age groups of the population at highest risk today are teens and young adults as well as seniors. It is important to realize that every day of the year roughly 6,600 people abuse prescription drugs for the first time.
Statistics on Prescription Misuse Among Age Groups
Additional statistics reveal the following information concerning drug misuse among different age groups:
• Teenagers and Young Adults – Prescription medication misuse and abuse is currently at high levels among young people aged 18 to 25. In this group, nearly 6.0 percent use prescription drugs illegally each month. In teens aged 12 to 17, this percentage is upwards of 3.0 percent monthly. The drugs most often abused by high school seniors, following the high rates of alcohol, marijuana and tobacco usage, are prescription medications. Many of these young people report obtaining such drugs from friends or relatives. Surprisingly, few of them buy opioids via the Internet. Young people who misuse prescription drugs are also prone to abusing other types of drugs such as cocaine or heroin.
• Senior Citizens – Today, people in the older age group of 65 and above make one-third of the total outpatient prescription medication purchases in the U.S. This is primarily due to the fact that they often need long-term treatment with these drugs. They may also require treatment by several medications on an ongoing basis. Older patients with impaired memory problems may abuse these drugs as a result of confusion about correct dosages. Also, seniors on fixed incomes may take drugs prescribed for friends or relatives if they cannot afford to buy the medications themselves. Although this type of drug abuse is caused by circumstance, it is still serious abuse.
Prescription Drugs Most Often Abused
Any medication, whether a prescribed drug or an over-the-counter product, can be misused. However, three classes of drugs most often abused today are:
• Opioids – These medications are commonly prescribed for pain control and treatment. Opioids most often abused are OxyContin, Vicodin, Percocet, Kadian (morphine) and codeine.
• CNS (Central Nervous System) Depressants – These drugs are prescribed as treatment for sleep disorders and anxiety. Frequently abused CNS depressants include benzodiazepines (Valium, Xanax, Halcion and ProSom) useful for alleviating panic attacks and anxiety; non-benzodiazepine sleep medications (Ambien, Lunesta and Sonata) for treating various sleep disorders; and barbiturates (Mebaral and Luminal Sodium, or phenobarbital) used most often for controlling seizures and during surgical procedures.
• Stimulants – These drugs enhance energy and attention while maintaining a state of alertness. They also raise the heart rate, respiration rate and blood pressure. They have been used to control respiratory conditions like asthma, neurological problems and obesity. Today, these medications are prescribed mainly to treat narcolepsy, ADHD and serious depression. Commonly abused stimulants include Concerta and Adderall.
Some Measures Being Taken Today to Prevent Prescription Drug Abuse
By working together, medical doctors and other health practitioners, pharmacists, counselors, patients and their families can play major roles in identifying drug abuse and helping to prevent this serious health problem. Each group can give aid and support to this important issue in different ways, for example:
• Medical Doctors and Other Health Practitioners – By showing professional concern for patients and encouraging them to reveal all types of drug use they have engaged in, doctors and other healthcare professionals can help patients understand drug misuse. They can also help prevent incidents of patient drug misuse becoming habitual or regular abuse. Routine medical appointments for such patients should include prescription drug abuse screening. Doctors and their staff members should also take note of frequent patient requests for dosage increases or excessive drug refill requests. Physicians and other healthcare staff can also help identify patients who mix prescription drugs with illicit drugs or alcohol and aid these substance abusers in getting proper inpatient or outpatient treatment. Through such treatment programs, their progress can be carefully monitored by experienced professionals for best recovery and rehabilitation results.
• Pharmacists – Fortunately, in many states of the U.S. now, Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs enable doctors and pharmacists to access nationwide prescribed medication records for patients taking controlled substances (drugs with high risk of dependency or addiction if misused). These medications can only be filled by a pharmacist when patients have triplicate-form prescriptions written and signed by physicians, and refill requests cannot be phoned-in to pharmacists. This precautionary measure is especially helpful in preventing drug abuse in states that do not yet have universal computerized files of patient prescriptions available for viewing by pharmacists. It also helps identify patients who “doctor shop” for the purpose of getting multiple prescriptions for the same medication from various physicians. Pharmacists can also get acquainted with patients who have prescriptions filled on a regular basis at their pharmacies and be aware of unscheduled refill requests or patient claims of lost medications.
• Counselors, Patients and Their Families – Professional drug counselors are trained to identify both drug abuse occurrence and what type of prescription the abuser is using excessively. They can determine by observing and interacting with a substance abuser whether the person is misusing and possibly addicted to stimulants, CNS depressants or opioids. Counselors can often form bonds with prescription drug abusers, gaining their trust. Such bonds are of great assistance in encouraging patient-clients to reveal and discuss their personal histories and problems related to their drug abuse. Addicts and drug abusers who feel comfortable with their counselors often will discuss other substances they are abusing in combination with prescription drugs. When counselors, patient-clients and families have group meetings, everyone can lend support and aid to the drug abusers toward seeking professional treatment for their drug addiction or misuse.
What Else Can Be Done?
When communities join together for the purpose of alleviating drug abuse, much progress can be made. If teachers and youth counselors are watchful and attuned to signs and symptoms of student substance misuse, they can help prevent serious abuse and addiction among teenagers. Families, neighbors, community groups and local organizations can all assist doctors and pharmacists in identifying prescription drug abuse and addiction by learning symptoms of substance abuse and encouraging those struggling with abuse of or addiction to prescription medications to seek and accept professional help and rehabilitation for a healthy, drug-free future.