Even though the problems with prescription drug abuse have been rising for quite some time in the United States, it is good to see that many states are beginning to take the problem seriously. One Pennsylvania lawmaker is taking steps to ensure that prescription drug abuse is identified early by introducing plans for a database that would keep track of the use of prescription medication.
A Rising Problem
According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) prescription drugs were involved in the majority of fatal overdoses in the United States in 2008. Additionally, 14,800 of the 20,044 fatal overdoses attributed to prescription drugs involved opioid pain relievers such as methadone, Vicodin, Opana, and OxyContin – that is 74 percent of all deaths attributed to opioid pain relievers. The number of prescription opioid deaths in 2008 is more than three times the number recorded in 1999, and the number of fatal overdoses, exceeds the number of overdoses caused by cocaine and heroin combined.
Measures In Pennsylvania
The bill proposed in Pennsylvania is House Bill 1651 and would mean that Pennsylvania would start monitoring and tracking the use of prescription drugs. So far, 35 states are already doing the same thing. The database would allow health care professionals to see whether someone is visiting pharmacists and doctors to acquire multiple prescriptions. This could indicate that they are looking to sell these prescription medications, feed their own addiction, or possibly both.
The database is intended to have information provided by doctors and pharmacists and would ultimately help health care professionals; acting as an early warning system when someone is abusing prescription medication. When using the database, if a doctor believes that their patient does not have a legitimate reason for seeking a prescription, they would easily be able to see whether this patient has a history with prescription drugs. While it may not eliminate the problems with prescription medication entirely, it certainly makes it more difficult for someone to ‘doctor shop’.
The Need For A Nationwide Tracking System
Part of the problem is that enforcement, tracking, and monitoring, combined with proper disposal and education is not going to be enough, if we merely keep it on a statewide level. If someone lives close to another state border, we can’t be naïve enough to believe that someone who is willing to forge prescriptions would be unwilling to forge a prescription in a neighboring state. The tracking and monitoring of prescription medication needs to happen on a national level, otherwise the problem is only going to continue growing.
Simply Tracking It Is Not Enough
One important thing for everyone to remember is that simply tracking prescription medication is not going to be enough. Education should be the focus if we hope to contain this prescription medication epidemic. It is important to make people aware of the fact that abusing prescription medication is illegal, (which most people already know) but can also be extremely dangerous. Why is it that so many people would never smoke or inject heroin but when it comes to taking a few OxyContin to relax, they don’t think twice about it?
Those that are a little older may remember the amount of public service announcements that were focused on keeping young people off heroin, and to an extent, these worked. As well, people need to be made aware of the fact that prescription medication does not equate to ‘safe use.’
Safe Use Is One Thing
Many people still wonder what the big deal is with prescription drugs. After all, these are prescription medication we are talking about here, how harmful can these be to someone if doctors recommend them? The truth is that many prescription medications already have many dangerous side effects even when used the way they are supposed to be used, for example:
- Prozac – this drug can lead to constant agitation, a condition known as akathisia. While being agitated is bad enough, akathisia commonly occurs in combination with violent behavior, hostility, and suicidal thoughts.
- Cortisone or Prednisone – while this can be a very effective short-term medication, when used long-term it has dangerous side effects such as intestinal bleeding, cataracts, diabetes, peptic ulcers, osteoporosis, and hypertension, to name a few.
- Percocet or OxyContin – these medications may hinder breathing or slow down a person’s heart rate.
- Adderall or Ritalin – these also have troubling side effects in that a person may develop a severe psychological dependency on the drug. They can also produce side effects such as hostility, insomnia, and anxiety.
These are just a few of the drugs and their side effects that someone may have to deal with when taking the prescription that has been prescribed by their physician. However, when prescription medication is abused in a way that it was not intended, problems are much more likely to occur. OxyContin is the perfect example of a drug that is often used in a way it is not meant to be used. When taken orally as instructed, OxyContin provides pain relief over an 8-hour period, meaning that the pill slowly but surely releases the active ingredient, thereby relieving pain. However, when the pills are crushed up, snorted, or injected, the active ingredient enters the body much faster, ignoring the safer 8-hour timeframe, and immediately providing a high that is similar to using heroin. As you can imagine, that is a lot for the body to take in and can be extremely dangerous.
What We Need To Realize
Even though prescription drugs are a part of the daily lives for millions of people throughout the world, it does not mean that they are without danger. While they can sustain life and maintain someone’s health, they only do so when used in accordance with strict medical guidelines. When these drugs are abused, they can produce harmful side effects that are exactly the same as we associate with heroin and cocaine use. Even when used as prescribed, when taken over a long period of time, these drugs can eventually lead to serious health problems. This is not a problem that is caused by a single person or entity, and it is going to require a drastic overhaul on the part of everyone involved.