Prescription drug abuse has exploded in recent years. More people today die from prescription drug overdose than from motor vehicle accidents, and more than heroin and cocaine overdoses combined.
Surprisingly, prescription drug abuse, or prescription opioid abuse, has only recently become an epidemic. In fact, studies show that in 1999, the number of accidental opioid overdoses in the U.S. was a mere 3,000 compared with 12,000 in 2007. In the last decade America has seen a fivefold increase in the number of people entering substance abuse programs for opioid addiction.
More Prescriptions, More Abuse
The main reason for the sudden increase in opioid addiction? Increased availability of the pills. In 1991, doctors increasingly began prescribing painkillers to manage their patients’ pain. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, between 1991 and 2010, prescriptions for opioid painkillers increased from 75.5 million to 209.5 million, and prescriptions for stimulants increased from 5 million to 45 million!
Tragically, so many people who abuse painkillers legitimately needed the pills at one point to manage their pain. Surgery patients, those who sustained an injury and others suffering with chronic pain still rely on the relief that these powerful pills can provide. But because the opioids are so addicting, many people find they physically and psychologically cannot stop taking them—and what began as a way to feel some relief has become an out-of-control nightmare.
Easily Accessible Pills
Today, painkillers are readily available. Some doctors are quick to hand out prescriptions, which is finally being addressed via the arrest and prosecution of pill mill doctors and other healthcare professionals who misuse their power to prescribe. Because of the large number of patients on painkillers, family, friends and neighbors often have easy access to pills in their own medicine cabinets.
With the advent of online shopping sites, there’s even more access to prescriptions. Pills can be found and purchased online, sometimes making their way overseas or from black markets. Many individuals who are addicted to street drugs transition to prescription drugs because they are so easy to obtain.
The Dangers Are Underestimated
Prescription drugs have become a also problem among young people and others who are afraid of experimenting with “harder” street drugs. Because painkillers are prescribed by a doctor, it’s a common-held belief that they are harmless or simply cannot be addictive. Unfortunately, many have found from experience that prescription drugs are addicting, they can lead to overdose and death, and they can be a gateway to other harder drugs.
Here in New Jersey, the prescription painkiller problem remains a major issue. The state is working to implement education, prevention, and monitoring programs to help put an end to the problem. More individuals are seeking help and treatment for prescription drug addiction today than ever before, which is indeed a positive sign.