Commentary: Prescription Drug Abuse and the Future of America
Last month, I visited a fellow Medicine Abuse Project partner—Project Lazarus—an organization on the forefront of combating the prescription drug abuse problem. Project Lazarus is located in Wilkes County, North Carolina, an area of the country that has borne a disproportionately large part of the burden caused by medicine abuse. While there, I met a group of dedicated people working hard to reduce medicine abuse in the area and across the country—doctors, leaders and law enforcement officers. I have great admiration and respect for all of the people I met at Project Lazarus, but one individual in particular stood out for me.
Donna Reeves is a mother from North Carolina who tragically lost her daughter to a drug overdose in 2006. She spoke of the importance of involving a diverse range of people in the conversation about prescription drug abuse—emphasizing that this problem doesn’t just affect one demographic, but all age groups across the geographic and socio-economic spectrum. Perhaps most importantly, Donna highlighted the urgent need to educate parents on the signs of drug abuse, the tools available to help young people seek treatment and the existence of a life-saving overdose reversal drug, Naloxone. Donna’s message was heartbreaking, but it’s one we must hear: education is one of the most powerful ways to prevent drug abuse.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classify prescription drug abuse as an epidemic. While there has been a marked decrease in the use of some illegal drugs like cocaine, data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) show that approximately one-fourth of people aged 12 and over who used drugs for the first time in 2010 began by using a prescription drug non-medically.
Alarmingly, the majority of new or occasional nonmedical users of pain relievers obtained the drug from family or friends for free or took them without asking. Chronic users were more likely to obtain the drugs from doctors or by buying them. What can we learn from this? We know that securing medicine in the home—and disposing of unneeded pills—can help prevent medicine abuse from ever beginning.
Securing medicines in the home and disposing of medicine properly is an important part of the solution, but it must be accompanied by prescription drug monitoring programs in every state, law enforcement efforts to thwart improper prescribing practices and, of course, education for parents, prescribers and patients.
If you have unneeded medicine in the home, please take advantage of National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day on September 29th, when the Drug Enforcement Administration will open sites across the country to receive unused prescription drugs—no questions asked. If you’re a parent, please take the time to talk to your children about the harm caused by medicine abuse, and educate yourself on the signs of abuse. Working together, we can build a better future for our country’s young people—free of the pain caused by medicine abuse.
Gil Kerlikowske, Director of National Drug Control Policy