Placing Blame For Prescription Drug Abuse
In the course of our nation’s 40 year War on Drugs there have been many shifts in emphases and many turns in the road. The battlefront of today is not at all the same as it was just a couple of decades ago. Use of illicit drugs like cocaine and heroin has been overtaken by today’s leading problem – prescription painkillers (opioids).
The need to shift attention and prevention resources is often accompanied by a perceived need to assign blame. However, pinpointing where the greatest responsibility lies for our nation’s abuse of prescription painkillers is as fruitless as it is difficult.
Some Sobering Statistics
Statistics reveal that the non-medical use of prescription painkillers is our country’s second leading form of drug abuse today.
- Overdose fatalities involving prescription painkillers has increased fourfold over 10 years
- Hospital admissions relating to prescription painkiller abuse has increased five-fold
- Admissions into drug rehab programs for abuse of prescription painkillers has increased 400 percent
Who is to Blame
1. Some say that it is the same segment of our population abusing drugs, and that they have simply adopted a new and more convenient drug of choice. In a 2007 examination of the problem, 1,400 patients in rehab for OxyContin abuse were questioned. Researchers discovered that nearly 80 percent of those patients had never had a personal prescription for the medication but nearly all had undergone prior drug treatment for other substances. Addiction is a disease which most often requires professional assistance to overcome.
2. Some blame the pharmaceutical companies who make these drugs and who are even now working to create newer, stronger painkillers. Though these painkillers are tremendously effective when used under a doctor’s supervision, the companies who make them are regularly re-formulating them to design tamper-proof tablets in order to minimize their usefulness to abusers.
3. Pharmacies themselves have come under fire. Most often it is the online pharmacies known as “pill mills” which receive withering criticism, and perhaps deservedly so. These websites sell prescription medications at tremendous profit and require little, if any, proof of an actual doctor exam on the part of the purchaser.
4. Poor family habits have also garnered much of the blame for the crisis. Families who hoard prescription medications beyond their prescribed date and who do little to guard against possible raiding of the family medicine cabinet are considered to contribute tremendously to the problem. Our nation’s Drug Czar has commented that 70 percent of those who abuse prescription medications report obtaining them from a friend or family member – not a doctor or pharmacy.
5. A significant amount of finger-pointing has been aimed at the medical community. Powerful voices like the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say that physicians are over-prescribing and the practice is driving the glut of drugs and abuses. It is true that the years 1998-2008 saw the sales of prescription painkillers increase fourfold. Nonetheless, it is also reported that only a minority of Americans who are being prescribed painkillers by their doctor will actually become addicted, as long as they have no previous history of drug abuse.
So who is to blame? The problem of prescription drug abuse is a serious one. There is perhaps no single place to lay the blame for this crisis. Even if there were, assigning blame does little to work toward solutions. Turning things around will take a focused effort from every front.