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The non-medical use and abuse of prescription pain relievers in the US has over the years become an increasingly serious problem. Never before have we seen numbers such as these. Even when heroin and laudanum were available over the counter for anyone of any age, the rates of addiction and overdose weren't where we've arrived today.
This includes prescription pain relievers and cold remedies. Opioids are narcotic drugs and are most commonly used to treat intense pain, either acute pain or chronic pain. They can also be used for cough suppressants and to treat diarrhea.
These medications vary widely in terms of strength and duration of action. While all drugs have side effects, opioid medications exhibit many, some severe.
NIDA tells us that more than 54 million adult Americans have misused prescription opioids in their lifetimes. That means 20 percent of all Americans above age 12. And it is increasing at an alarming rate. More than two million Americans used prescription drugs non-medically for the first time in 2015. That comes to around 5,750 new users every day.
The reasons for these nearly epidemic increases are many and varied, but accessibility and misinformation regarding the safety of non-medical use of prescribed drugs and their addictive potentials are likely among the most important causes. The perception that any medication prescribed by a physician must be safer than an illegal drug also leads to more experimentation with the resulting increase of dependence and addiction.
Since 1999 the overuse and abuse of prescription opioids has more than quadrupled to the point that in 2015, and average of 91 Americans died every day from prescribed opioid overdose. The CDC reported in 2013 that prescribers wrote nearly a quarter of a billion prescriptions for opioid medications. That is enough for every adult in American to have their own bottle of pills.
Many efforts are underway to reduce the prevalence of pain killer abuse and addiction. The Drug Enforcement Agency, (DEA), works to control and reduce the import of counterfeit pills pouring in to the US from clandestine Asian manufacturers. Many good agencies provide drug abuse education and awareness workshops in schools and community organizations. The Federal government has implemented a national program called the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, the PDMP. This is a nationwide database which is accessible to health care providers and pharmacies. It contains a record of every time a drug from a list of potentially addictive medications is prescribed, when the prescription is filled, to whom, where and what the prescription was for.
But when addiction has taken hold and the patient finds he or she is unable to stop or even reduce their drug use, it's time for treatment. Effective treatment is available, treatment that will keep the patient in a safe and drug free environment for a long enough period of time so recovery can actually take hold. And a long enough time for the former addict to change destructive habits into constructive activities, which is a necessary step to undo what the months and years of drug abuse have created.