The Hidden Epidemic of Prescription Drug Addiction

The Hidden Epidemic of Prescription Drug Addiction

The Hidden Epidemic of Prescription Drug Addiction

For Faith and Familys Light magazine recently talked with Rod Colvin, author or Prescription Drug Addiction: The Hidden Epidemic.

Why did you write a book on prescription drug addiction?

This book grew out of my familys own experience with prescription drug addiction. My younger brother was addicted to prescription drugs for about fifteen years. The stress on his body caused him to have his first heart attack at age thirty-two, and he died from another heart attack on his thirty-fifth birthday.

This hidden epidemic continues to claim victims from all walks of life executives, health care providers, homemakers, students and celebrities. I wanted them to know that there is hope for them.

There is much more information available on illicit drug use than on prescription drug abuse. Why?

Society has been slow to react to the ab use of prescription drugs. Prescription drugs are dispensed under the aegis of medical care. Theyve been prescribed by physicians and dispensed from the corner pharmacy. You dont have to frequent a liquor store or visit a street corner in a dangerous part of town to get them. Historically, this problem has been swept under the rug. Addiction in a family member carries a tremendous amount of shame, and the denial aspect is greater with prescription drugs. If someone is getting cocaine from a street dealer, we think, Oh thats terrible. But if someone is getting a bottle of pills every week from a pharmacy, we dont judge a quickly. We think, She must need these. The doctor prescribed them for her. Prescription drug abuse is the least understood and most underreported substance abuse problem in the country.

How does addiction to prescription drugs begin?

It usually begins when a person takes a legitimately prescribed drug for a real medical problem. These are people with no history of drug abuse. Unfortunately, they may have an underlying emotional problem or a predisposition to addiction that was overlooked. They may take a sedative for insomnia or a narcotic analgesic for physical pain, and they feel better. They take a little more the next time, and they feel even better. Soon their body is adapting to the drug and demanding more. Eventually, or sometimes very quickly, the addiction process kicks in.

How do addicts continue to get drugs?

They are afraid to tell their doctor what is happening for fear of being cut off from the drugs, so they begin doing illegal things. Doctor shopping refers tot eh practice of going from doctor to doctor for the purpose of getting a new prescription from each. Some people fake illness at emergency rooms. After my brother died, we got bills from three or four hospitals that he had visited within the last month. And people forge prescriptions on pads they steal from doctors offices. Amazingly, a majority of forged prescriptions are filled. Nearly all eighty to ninety percent of the drugs that are diverted come from legitimate sources doctors offices, hospitals and pharmacies.

There must be a fair number of doctors who knowingly write these unnecessary prescriptions.

Actually, the American Medical Association believes that only about one percent of doctors are considered script docswho will write a prescription for anything for a price. But one percent of American doctors is five to seven thousand. Even one doctor can be responsible fo the diversion of tens of thousands of pills, however, so one percent of the total can do a great deal of damage.

Are many health professionals addicted themselves?

Its believed that health professionals have a slightly higher rate of addiction because of the stressful nature of their work and their easy access to medication. Ive been told that Demerol is a drug of choice among addicted hospital nurses. They give the patient an injection of saline solution, and they take the Demerol. The patients just assume the doctor is underestimating their pain. Many hospital nurses will tell you that they are aware of other nurses abusing prescription drugs.

Are any demographic groups especially susceptible?

Women are more susceptible primarily because they are more inclined than men to seek medical help. There simply more women getting prescriptions.

Seniors are at risk because of their exposure to multiple drugs and because a slowing metabolism increases the time a drug strays in the body. People sixty-five and older make up thirteen percent of the U.S. population, but they take thirty percent of the prescription drugs. It is not unusual for an older patient to be taking ten to fifteen medications a year, many of them at the same time. And seniors often get prescriptions from multiple doctors who may not know that other drugs are being prescribed. This unintentional misuse can lead to addiction. Some conditions attributed to aging confusion, slurred speech and memory loss are also side effects of prescription drug abuse.

However, a 1999 study showed the sharpest increases in the twelve to seventeen and eighteen to twenty-five age groups.

What can a family member or friend do?

 Educate yourself about the nature of addiction. Learn about the physical aspects of dependence and withdrawal and the emotional aspects of denial.

 Accept that addiction affects everyone in the addicts life. I used to think my brother was the one with the problem, not me. But the chaos affected all of us.

 Examine your relationship with the addict to determine if you are enabling his or her behavior by trying to minimize the consequences of drug use.

 Find a support group. You will benefit from the support and insight of others in similar situations.

 Realize that addiction is a chronic disease that gets worse over time. Family and friends too often believe the problem will get better. Work to get help for the addict now. Dont wait until a more serious health problem arises or the addict injures himself or others.

Remember there is hope.

Symptoms of Addiction

✓ Showing relief from anxiety

✓ changes in mood

✓ False feelings of self-confidence

✓ Increased sensitivity to sight and sounds, including hallucinations

✓ Altered activity levels, such as sleeping for 12-14 hours or frenzied activity lasting for hours

✓ Unpleasant or painful symptoms when the substance is withdrawn

✓ Preoccupation with running out of pills

To order Prescription Drug Addiction by Rod Colvin, call 1-800-352-2873 or visit for ordering infomation.

Reprinted with permission from Faith & Family

[Light magazine – Jan/Feb 2002]


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