What comes to mind when you think of prescription drug abuse? Do you cast your mind back to the latest celebrity accidental overdose, or do you think of university students popping ADHD meds so they can cram for exams? Would you think of a lovely middle-aged lady from the English countryside?
Probably not, but that doesn’t mean that she isn’t popping prescription pain killers with her gin and tonic and enjoying her evening high.
Prescription drug abuse is a growing problem in the UK and the US, but it’s not received the attention that illegal drugs get. Yet. There is a growing movement in both countries to recognise the seriousness of the problem and to come up with possible solutions.
The UK health minister, Anna Soubry, says that the blame for the problem rests, more or less, squarely on GPs’ shoulders (telegraph.co.uk). It’s ever so much easier to write a prescription than it is to spend time with a patient to get to the root of the problem, which may be entirely different to the symptoms, and to discuss alternatives to drugs.
Soubry says that GPs have been overprescribing tranquilizers, sleeping pills and anti-anxiety pills for decades. According to Public Health England, the result of this long-term over-prescription is now becoming evident in the number of people over 40 years old who have admitted that they have drug abuse problems.
The most common drugs, at least in the over-40 age group, are anxiety-related. Considering that anxiety and depression-related disorders are becoming increasingly common, one shudders to think what the statistics will look like ten years from now.
Dailymarkets.com has published a press release which cites a study conducted by Quest Diagnostics prescription drug abuse. According to the study, three in five US citizens misused prescription drugs in 2012.
It’s important to note that misuse is not the same as abuse. Misuse includes combining one or more prescription or non-prescription drugs, and even includes not taking drugs that have been prescribed.
It seems that the situation in the US is almost the opposite of that in the UK, as students are considered most at risk of prescription drug abuse. It’s so bad, in fact, that ex-president Bill Clinton has said that prescription drug abuse is one of the biggest problems among college students (that and debt). As one might expect, the real problem is that students are mixing prescription drugs with alcohol, which, as we know, can be a deadly combination.
Students also abuse drugs that they think will help them study for longer hours and improve their memory.
It’s important to bear in mind that because prescription drug abuse is a hidden addiction, we’ll never get an accurate picture of the problem. What we do know is that it affects all age groups, from students to grandparents. We also know that it needs strong action, the likes of which are applied to illegal drug abuse. Unfortunately, we’re not there – yet.
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Sandy Cosser writes for False Bay Therapeutic Community Centre, a rehabilitation centre that has a holistic approach to alcohol and drug addiction treatment.