With all the talk about heroin, cocaine, and in particular marijuana, it is easy to lose sight of another huge aspect of the drug problem. We’re speaking, of course, about prescription drugs. Last week United States Surgeon General Vivek H. Murphy spoke on the subject at the University of Arizona College of Medicine. It was altogether fitting that the speech took place here, since Arizona holds the distinction of having one of the highest prescription drug misuse/overdose death rates in the nation.

According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, 90% of the prescription drug misuse among young people begins when the drugs are obtained from family and friends. Another issue has been the mantra, among both patients and doctors, of “no pain.” This has led to overprescribing and overuse of prescription pain medication, accompanied by the belief among many users that they cannot or will not become addicted.

In his recent talk in Phoenix, the Surgeon General referenced a number of primary goals when it comes to dealing with prescription drug abuse, including (a) the expansion of opportunities that would allow a million addicts access to treatment programs and facilities, (b) increased availability of naloxone, which is used to treat drug overdoses, and (c) additional research into pain relief using non-opiates, along with new guidelines for prescription drugs.

An important step in dealing with the problem is to develop alternative treatment for pain. According to many experts, prescription pain medication – particularly opiates – has been the automatic first response by many in the medical community when a patient is in pain.

In case anyone thinks we’re overstating the problem of prescription drug problem, take a look at these from the National Institute on Drug Abuse:

  • Over 50 million people above the age of 11 have used prescription drugs on a non-medical basis during their lifetime.
  • Over 6 million people have used prescription drugs non-medically in the last month.
  • During one year, there were enough prescription painkillers prescribed to medicate every adult in the country daily for a month.

Painkillers are the most abused prescription drugs, followed by tranquilizers and stimulants. Although overprescribing is an issue (about 20% of all prescription drugs are obtained from doctors), studies note that over half of all prescription drugs are obtained from friends or relatives.

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