The abuse of prescription drugs in today’s world has risen to the levels of an epidemic. All told, the amount of people who abuse prescription drugs surpasses that of people who use every type of illegal street drug like meth, cocaine and heroin combined. Most people start to abuse prescription drugs from an early age, usually opioid painkillers such as OxyContin and Vicodin, which then lead into more abuse as they get older, or venturing forth into new types of drugs such as heroin. It is being found out more and more that prescription drugs are gateway drugs into harder and worse things.
This is not to say that prescription drugs aren’t a force to be reckoned with on their own. Many deaths have been associated with the over-usage of prescription drugs, usually in combination with other things like alcohol.
It has been estimated that every day within the United States, an average of 2500 young people, aged from about 12 to 17 years old, abuse a prescription painkiller for the first time in their lives. This can transform into prescription drug abuse, or move on into the realm of harder drugs. The same age bracket was found to, in 2005 through a series of interviews, have admitted to abusing prescription drugs to the tune of about 4.4 million people. 2.3 million people of the same age group admitted to abusing over-the-counter drugs such as cough syrup, and 2.3 million or so admitted to abusing drugs like Ritalin.
Going by a survey that was done, almost 50% of teens believe that prescription drugs are much safer than illegal street drugs, and 60% to 70% say that home medicine cabinets are where they get their prescription drugs from.
According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, teens who abuse prescription drugs are two times as likely to use alcohol, five times more likely to use marijuana, and twelve to twenty times more likely to use illegal street drugs such as heroin, Ecstasy and cocaine than the teens who do not abuse prescription drugs at all.
And teens are not the only ones, of course, who are abusing prescription drugs. Out of the 22,400 drug overdose deaths that were reported within the United States in the year 2005, opioid painkillers were the common culprit of those deaths, amounting to about 38% of them. It can be speculated that a majority of these people may have been exposed to prescription drugs at an early age. Depressants, opioids and antidepressants are responsible for more overdose deaths (45%) than cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and amphetamines (39%) combined. And in 2007, the Drug Enforcement Administration found that the painkiller Fentanyl killed more than 1,000 people that year in the United States. It is estimated to be thirty to fifty times more powerful than heroin.
So how is all this happening? One of the problems with prescription drugs is that they are legal and they are given by doctors- people who are trusted. People don’t realize that they are becoming addicted to them when they are using them, nor do they really realize their power. Prescription drugs have gained a reputation as things that can get you high, and teens are attracted to that. They get into the medicine cabinets at home and take their parents painkillers out of curiosity and get hooked on it. Once hooked, they need more, or they go for something cheaper and more dangerous (hence the thrill) like heroin or what have you.
People would do well to be careful as to what prescriptions they actually accept from their doctors and where they are kept at home. The temptation to slip one quietly on part of teens and children is too high and parents need to take this into consideration, questioning themselves as to if they really need the powerful painkillers at all.