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As most of us in the addiction field are aware, prescription drug abuse has sharply increased in the last ten years. We are seeing it in all races, socioeconomic groups and most age groups. The non-medical use of prescription drugs continues to be the second most commonly used illegal drug among U.S. residents. In 2009 in Orange County there were enough opiate prescriptions written for 58% of the counties residents, in 2011 that number increased to 62.9%. There was also a notable increase in the number of prescriptions written for benzodiazepines, from 23% to 27% (Times Herald Record, 2012). With the increase of use comes the increase of consequences. In 2011, drug overdose deaths out paced motor vehicle accidents according to the Center for Disease Control.
But the risk of addiction seems negligible when a doctor is suggesting these medications for symptoms, and for some it seems the risk is negligible. Many people take controlled substances for short periods of time and give them up with ease. But these cases represent only a portion of the outcomes. Below is a typical scenario for the prescription medication abuser.
Using more than prescribed, running out before the end of the month. Discovering positive side effects of medication.
Heavy denial, fear of being without the drug. Begins to take drug for reasons other than pain/anxiety.
Increased awareness that use is becoming a problem but physical addiction is starting to take over. Behaviors now include stealing medication, doctor shopping
Physical addiction has taken over although denial may still be present. Now stealing property, legal issues, major losses (family, work, housing). Begins to substitute heroin.
This is slightly different than addiction to drugs that are not legal at all. Prescription drug use starts as legal, legitimate and positive experience. They make you feel better, just like the doctor said they would. When someone uses cocaine, heroin or marijuana, they know right off the bat this is a crime. The intentions are also different. Medical use is usually the first desire (opiate for pain, benzodiazepines for anxiety). The high is recognized as a secondary gain once the original problem has been addressed.
Of course there are exceptions to every rule. Some prescription medication abusers started to use pills just because they want to get high, their path to addiction is more similar to those who started with illegal drugs, because their use is illegal from the beginning and there is no validation from the medical community that the drug is needed.
Not all the medication comes directly from the doctor (although it is possible to develop an addiction to medication, even if taken at prescribed doses).
Sources for Painkillers
- 17% got them with a doctors prescription
- 11.4% paid a friend or relative
- 4.8% stole from a friend or relative
- 55% get them for free from a friend or relative
Members of the community who want painkillers will find reliable sources in their area. Twenty percent of licensed prescribers account for eighty percent of prescriptions written.
“An addict is an addict” We have all heard this more times that we can count, and it is a great lesson to use when someone is treatment is starting to separate themselves from their peers. But on some level, it is helpful in the treatment of prescription drug abusers to understand how the unique experiences of each client can be used to support their abilities and strengths in recovery.
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