Social causes of prescription drug addiction

For almost 10 years, prescription medication abuse has been second only to marijuana use in the U.S. It is a fast growing epidemic that affects our youth, our adults and our seniors. But why are Americans misusing prescription drugs? And what social institutions have contributed to the growth of prescription drug addiction? We investigate here.

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Since the 1990’s, policy makers and researchers have noticed an increasing trend in the use and abuse of prescription drugs in the U.S. In fact, administrations from across the Health and Human Services network have teamed up to better address the prescription drug addiction problem and to make Americans more aware of the issue. Just to name a few, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) all have something to say about prescription drug use.

But what is causing prescription drug addiction? And what systems require an overhaul? First, we need to understand the markets for prescription drugs; mainly people are taking sedatives, stimulants and pain killers. Then, we can examine who is at risk of prescription drug misuse and why. Finally, we will address what can be changed .


The market

More than 70% of all prescription drugs that are misused are being prescribed by doctors. According to the Addiction Technology Transfer Center’s (ATTC) Connect to Fight RX Abuse initiative, the legitimate commercial production and sale of pharmaceutical drugs increased markedly in the 1990’s. At about the same time, the pharmaceuticals began to increase marketing campaigns to doctors about pain medications. And, no surprise, doctors started writing more campaigns for pain meds. To quote the Connect to Fight RX Abuse website, “Prescriptions written for controlled drugs increased more than 150 percent from 1992 to 2002 – almost 12 times the rate of increase in the population and almost three times the rate of increase in prescriptions written for all other drugs.” Now, that must have been SOME marketing campaign.

At the same time that adults were being prescribed pain medications, ADHD hit the market as a trendy diagnosis and kids all around the country starting taking (and distributing) Ritalin. Used appropriately, Ritalin can help improve the lives of children and teens by helping them keep and maintain focus and attention. However, as people increasing began to know that these medications existed, demand for pills soared. Doctors responded accordingly. Medicines have been over prescribed since, and access to prescription drugs has been easier than ever with online pharmacies adding convenience into the bargain.


The environment

Although young adults aged 18-25 normally register the highest rates of non medical use of prescription drugs, adolescents and the elderly are particularly at risk for becoming dependent upon pharmaceuticals. Just think about the kinds of drugs that are available now in school environments, or in the medicine cabinets of families in the U.S. Anti-anxiety, anti-pain, anti-depressants … just about any shade of drug can be supplied out of the home or school. This type of inappropriate access simply fuels trends for people to give one another medicines.


The suggestions

Simply, I suggest that everyone become more responsible. The health care system must make information about prescription drug addiction available and campaign for reasonable use of drugs. Health care providers must discuss the potential for addiction during initial visits for medications, rather than as an after-sight. Doctors need to update their skills and know how to screen, assess and refer people for prescription drug use; they need to know what kinds of questions to ask and the learn the right language it takes to discover addiction problems. Doctors also need to TAKE TIME to be with patients. Fast paced medical visits need to stop, as does the practice of prescribing unnecessary meds.

Pharmacists need to educate and counsel patients about HOW and WHEN to take medications….and stop trying to get people to sign away their right to be counseled. Pharmacists also need to be aware (as doctors do) that medical histories also include previous addictions or current use of alcohol or cigarettes. When pharmacists concentrate only other medications or supplements, etc. they can overlook potential interactions that can be extremely serious for users of prescription drugs.

Finally, we as consumers need to take stock. We need to be aware of drug supplies in the home and keep drugs under wrap. Parents need to talk to kids about misuse of medications and their consequences. We need to watch out for our elderly parents and grandparents, who can have a tendency to forget or confuse medications. We need to connect with our seniors to prevent the isolation than can drive them to take medications more frequently than they should, or to mix meds with alcohol. We also need to know how to identify prescription drug misuse and know what steps to take next.

In sum, the prescription drug epidemic is truly systemic. Unless we each take personal responsibility to curb its growth, it will continue to grow. But enough from me. What do you think? Your thoughts, ideas, comments, and feedback will be posted here.

Reference sources:
ATTC Network website
Fight RX Abuse website
National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information webcast
About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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