Opioid Crisis in America
Prescription drug use is by and large a good thing. Antibiotics stave off infection and painkillers ease the pain of having surgery and mending bones. Unfortunately, sometimes certain types of drugs can consume the person taking them, and they can begin to use the drugs in an abusive manner. It is reported that 1 in 5 Americans will admit to abusing a prescription drug in their lifetime. That’s 20% of all of the people living in the United States admitting to prescription drug use at some point in their lives, some 48 million people. Clearly, the issue of prescription drug addiction is not isolated. Many of the people admitting to abusing prescription drugs simply have isolated incidents where they overdo it with leftover drugs from a medical procedure, or try it out when handed a pill from a friend. They try it out and leave it alone after that. But others keep coming back for more.
Prescription drugs can be abused by anyone; race, gender, socioeconomic status, and other criteria don’t matter when it comes to prescription drugs. With the drugs more readily available than their illicit counterparts, some consider them a legal alternative. The fact is that outside of a doctor’s recommendation, the use of prescription drugs is just as illegal. Opioids, muscle relaxers, amphetamines, and depressants are all abused. In recent years there has been a rise of prescription drug abuse, leading to more ER visits when people accidentally overdose. This increase has also led to more admissions into drug treatment and rehabilitation programs.
Although anyone can become addicted to these substances, teens and young people are at a higher risk for becoming addicted. Education and understanding the risk factors and signs are the best forms of preventing this disease from taking hold.
What is Addiction?
According to the Mayo Clinic, drug addiction is:
“a dependence on an illegal drug or a medication. When you’re addicted, you may not be able to control your drug use and you may continue using the drug despite the harm it causes. Drug addiction can cause an intense craving for the drug. You may want to quit, but most people find they can’t do it on their own. For many people, what starts as casual use leads to drug addiction. Drug addiction can cause serious, long-term consequences, including problems with physical and mental health, relationships, employment and the law.”
There are a number of causes of addiction, but the two general factors that significantly affect one’s likelihood of becoming an addict are the environment one lives in and the genes one is born with. The environment is considered to be the family surrounding of an individual and their beliefs and attitudes towards drug use and abuse, as well as exposure to a peer group that may encourage or accept the use of drugs. Genes are the inherited traits people are born with. Once drug use begins, these inherited traits may play a role and influence one’s likelihood of becoming addicted.
When a person becomes truly addicted, they are known to be physically addicted. This occurs when the pathways to pleasure are actually altered in the brain to conform to the continual use of drugs. The drug being used can physically alter the nerve cells in the brain, called neurons. These cells send chemical messages to various parts of the brain and body and can be altered by continued drug use.
As it has already been said, anyone can become addicted. But there are a few risk factors that increase one’s chances:
- Family history of drug addiction – This refers to genes. If one has a family member or members with problems with drugs, this increases the chances of a person becoming an addict.
- Being male – Men are twice as likely to have problems with addiction versus females.
- Having other psychological problems – If a person suffers from a psychological issue, such as ADHD or depression, they are more likely to abuse drugs.
- Peer pressure – Mostly an issue among adolescents, peer pressure can play a large role in continuing abuse.
- Lack of parental involvement – Lack of familial closeness, as well as a lack of parental supervision can lead to drugs.
- Anxiety, depression, and being lonely – Some people start abusing prescription pills as a coping mechanism to deal with these painful psychological problems.
- Highly addictive substances – Some drugs, like opioids, can cause addiction faster than others.
Top 5 Prescription Drugs that Teens Abuse
Youth are at a heightened risk of abusing prescription drugs. One alarming stat is that 1 out of 3 prescription drug abusers is a teen, and each year that proportion is rising. Kids aged 12-17 years old abuse prescription drugs more than heroin, crack, ecstasy, cocaine, and methamphetamine combined. Over 70% of the prescription drugs used by teens are obtained through relatives and friends. The Center for Disease Control issued a study in 2010 stating that enough drugs were prescribed that year to medicate the entire nation around the clock for a whole month. As a result of this increase in prescription drug abuse, teen overdoses have more than tripled in the past ten years. There is a misconception about the safety of prescription drugs. Teens assume that since they are recommended by doctors and distributed by pharmacies, they are safer to use for recreational purposes over street drugs like, for example, marijuana. The 5 most popular drugs abused by teens are:
- OxyContin – The most popular and perhaps the most dangerous to abuse, this powerful narcotic contains the opioid oxycodone and is twice as powerful as morphine. Because of being in the same class of drugs as an opioid, the effects and addicting nature of this powerful painkiller are similar to heroin.
- Vicodin – 1 in 5 teens has been reported trying Vicodin. It is a depressant that slows down the central nervous system to help with anxiety. Being easier to access than alcohol, the drug has a high risk of overdose due to how casually it is prescribed and taken.
- Adderall – Used for ADHD, many teens are prescribed this amphetamine themselves. It is often used to boost focus so as to obtain good grades and high test scores. The negative effects of this drug are many, including anxiety, paranoia, sleeplessness, and complete psychosis. It is also abused as a weight loss drug, since it kills the user’s appetite.
- Xanax – Used in the treatment of anxiety disorders, this benzodiazepine gives the user a sense of relief. Though helpful when taken as prescribed, it can be lethal when combined with other drugs such as alcohol.
- Valium – Much like Xanax, this is a benzodiazepine used for panic attacks and anxiety. Used for its soothing, calming effects, abuse can be deadly. Withdrawal and recovery can cause the brain to wake up too fast, sometimes causing seizures.
Problems with Prescription Drug Addiction
Life isn’t lived in a vacuum, and so addiction can’t occur without causing harm to other aspects of an addict’s life. Prescription drug addiction can affect a range of life areas and cause a number of problems, including:
- Health problems
- Unconsciousness, blackouts, and death
- Higher likelihood of getting into a car or heavy machinery accident
- Increased risk of suicide
- Family problems
- Work issues
- Financial problems
- Problems at school
- Legal issues
Staying informed and knowing your risk factors is the best prevention method a person can have. Never starting prescription drug abuse is the only guaranteed way one can avoid becoming another statistic, and that begins with avoiding taking the drugs unnecessarily. If prescription pills that are often abused remain from a medical incident, be sure to destroy them to avoid the temptation and keep those around you safe. No one plans to become a prescription drug addict, it just happens. Controlling the flow of drugs and understanding the significant risks involved with the drugs is a sure way to keep abuse from starting.