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Prescription Drug Abuse

It used to be the traditional gateway drugs, nicotine and alcohol teenagers would try. In today's society prescription drug abuse is on the rise at an alarming rate. It is the second most commonly abused category or drugs. Marijuana is still the leading abused drug. Prescription drug abuse is so serious that is leads cocaine and methamphetamine use. In a 2009 study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention it showed that 20% of the teens surveyed admitted to taking prescription drugs without a prescription from a doctor.

There are three classes of commonly abused prescription medications, they are:

  • Opioids
  • Central Nervous System (CNS) Depressants
  • Stimulants

Opioids are used to treat pain. CNS depressants are used to help with anxiety and sleep disorders and stimulants are used for the treatment of attention deficit hyper disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy.

What are the reasons for seeing this huge increase among our youth? A lot of this can be attributed to the quick availability of prescription drugs. More and more people are being diagnosed with different types of disorders. Pain medication is being prescribed on a more regular basis. Prescription drugs are readily available in almost every single household.

What is interesting is that some youth believe that prescription drugs are safer and less addicting than most street drugs. This is what makes this issue hard to combat. There are some ways that we as parents and/or teachers can help. For starters keep all your prescription medication locked up. It serves as a deterrent to not only your own children but other guests whom you allow into your house. Don't keep your prescription drugs in places where they are known to be; for example, your medicine cabinet. That is the first place someone looking will go looking.

The key to understanding prescription drug abuse is to understand what an addiction is. Addiction is defined as someone who has a craving for whatever drug they use. They spend their waking hours obsessing how to get the next high. These drugs are used to change physiological effects or mood. The next area we need to concentrate on is what effects on the body it has.

  • Depression - sleepiness
  • Stimulation - the high
  • Distortion of your senses

One thing every drug has in common is that they affect the brain. When the drug enters the brain it is absorbed through the receptors. The brain is designed to release its own chemicals such as dopamine and endorphins. As drugs enter into the body from an outside source your brain makes less and less of these chemicals. If the addict uses the drugs on a regular basis they develop a tolerance. Once the tolerance is met it will require more and more of that particular drug to have the same affect.

As the craving for prescription drugs is on the rise so are other crimes. With this abuse comes the illegal possession of the prescription drug, stealing of prescription pads, calling in false prescriptions, doctor shopping cases, and so on.

I've been to the emergency room and have observed prescription pad blanks lying in wait. Securing those prescription pads can deter someone from randomly walking into the ER or doctor office just in search of them. Those prescription pads contain vital information needed and, depending on the prescription the abuser is seeking, they can randomly call them into the pharmacy to get them filled.

Abusers will often doctor shop. This is where they travel from one physician to another. They are actually preying upon these doctors. They look for older doctors with a busy practice. It's easier for them to slip in and out virtually unnoticed. It has been my experience that doctors are more reluctant to report these crimes due to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 or more commonly known as HIPPA. What I asked doctors to do was create a form and have their new and current patients fill out. This form essentially allows doctors to report patients that they believe are doctor shopping. The form clearly states that if they are suspected of this activity that they will be reported to law enforcement. If the doctor is truly committed they will do this. A person doctor shopping is perpetrating a crime against the doctor and that crime is fraud. There is no protected health information when this fraud is committed.

Some things we can control. If we practice simple steps to make ourselves accountable we can prevent some of this abuse. Every little step can help - from keeping your personal medications locked up to doctors keeping their prescription pad blanks in a secure place.

This is part one in a series of two articles. This article goes into the how and why of prescription drug abuse. Next month's article will go into the prescription drugs that have infiltrated our children's schools and what that means. We'll discuss the types of prescriptions medications that are being abused and why.