The Choice of a New Generation: Rx Drug Abuse

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Access is one of the drivers of addiction – if you can’t get the drugs, you can’t abuse them. How readily available a category of drugs is will influence which are tried by young people. And what’s more available than mom’s medicine cabinet?

A University of Denver study on rates of drug abuse shows a 40 percent increase in the rise of prescription drug abuse among adolescents. This puts prescription drugs second only to marijuana as the most popular category in the young.

Other factors feeding into this trend:

    • A willingness of doctors to prescribe narcotics for chronic pain – there are more pills "out there."

    • The acceptance of narcotics by parents of young people who then abuse the drugs – prescription drugs are seen as safer because the previous generation uses them more.

    • The supply system gives access – often without much cost or trouble, an adolescent can obtain drugs for experimentation or sharing with friends.

    • Standardized tablets with recognizable markings give confidence to abusers – they are getting what they think they are getting, unlike with street drugs.

    • Few focal points for enforcement – since a single young person can, with a single bad decision, move a drug from legitimate use (for the prescribed parent) to the illegitimate side (use by another), there isn’t a single point for enforcement as there is with wholesale dealing or smuggling in other types of drugs.

According to the press release, there are now more deaths due to accidental overdoses of prescription drugs than deaths due to overdoses of cocaine and heroin combined. And most were obtained not from drug dealers but from family or friends.

One of the authors is quoted as saying,

"While most people recognize the dangers of leaving a loaded gun lying around the house, what few people realize is that far more people die as a result of unsecured prescription medications."

There don’t seem to be any easy solutions to the problem on offer. With the medicine cabinet becoming the equivalent to a previous generation’s liquor cabinet, it becomes the same kind of "attractive nuisance." And since the medications are being prescribed for legitimate medical uses, we can’t simply stop giving them out. Perhaps the most likely way forward comes through education – getting the word out to parents and the young that these medications are dangerous.

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