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Prescription Drug Addiction

prescription-drugs.jpgFor Americans, Prescription Drug Abuse May Pave a Wide Path to Illicit Drug Use

America’s war on street drugs routinely garners headlines but much less attention is given to our problem with prescription drug abuse, despite the fact that it is more widespread than abuse of all types of illicit drugs combined, excepting only marijuana. And despite their therapeutic purposes, controlled prescription drugs can be just as deadly as heroin, cocaine or other street drugs.

Americans are so accustomed to trusting the medical community that they don’t have the same sense of danger about these drugs that they do with street drugs. Children are given prescription drugs throughout their childhoods. Can it be damaging to raid the medicine cabinet, accept a few pills from a friend or order your own supply from an unscrupulous Internet site? It can be bad enough to account for 23 percent of all drug-related emergency room admissions and more than 20 percent of all single drug-related emergency room deaths. ER admissions from this cause have grown three to four times faster than admissions for heroin or cocaine use.

And youth are by no means the only victims of this trend. Many adults are prescribed sleep aids, antidepressants or painkillers for legitimate complaints and then may develop a dependence or slide into abuse.

One of the most frequently abused drugs is OxyContin, an opioid (opium-like) painkiller. The strength of OxyContin made it a valuable painkiller for those people suffering from severe pain that no other painkiller would touch. The higher dosage was made safe for use by administering it in a time-release formulation. The downside: all abusers had to do was to crush or dissolve the tablet to thwart its time-release mechanism. The result of abuse was a high similar to heroin.

Also prone to abuse are stimulants such as Ritalin, often obtained by young people from a friend who would rather sell the pills than take them, anti-anxiety drugs Valium and Xanax, and steroids. In 2003, approximately six percent of the Americans of all ages admitted abusing controlled prescription drugs – that’s 15.1 million people. Growth of this type of abuse far outstrips the growth in use of marijuana, cocaine or heroin.

One of the worst aspects of this problem is that it predisposes young abusers to street drug use. According to the President of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Colombia University, teens who abuse controlled prescription drugs are twice as likely to use alcohol, five times likelier to use marijuana, 12 times likelier to use heroin, 15 times likelier to use Ecstacy and 21 times likelier to use cocaine. All the drug enforcement efforts in the world will be wasted when these teens and young adults graduate from controlled prescription drugs to street drugs. The tidal wave of demand will ensure that heroin, cocaine and other drugs will make it to the streets no matter what barriers are placed in the way.

Effective rehabilitation that eliminates drug cravings and restores the ability of any person – young or old – to enjoy a drug-free life is essential, along with drug education that keeps new teens and young adults from falling into the same trap.