The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics are mind numbing: in 2006, 2.2 million people 12 and older abused pain relievers; those treated for "opiates other than heroin surged from 16,121 in 1995 to 67,887 in 2005, a 321 percent increase"; and the misuse of opioids (a range of drugs used for pain control) were responsible for more deaths than cocaine and heroine combined. Prescription drugs are the fourth most abused substances behind only marijuana, alcohol and tobacco.
Prescription drug abuse is fueled by a range of factors. To be sure, an increase in prescriptions is one of them. But a far greater reason is a common but grave misperception of their safety. Studies show that parents are likely to give their children prescription drugs to ease their discomfort - 55% of those 12 and older received drugs from a friend or family member. High school and college-aged students will themselves seek out drugs like Ritalin and other amphetamines for non-medical reasons, primarily to increase academic performance. In addition, there are those who use the medications for their intended purpose and feel they can "self-prescribe." Sooner than later they are addicted and are unable to seek appropriate help.
Prescription drugs are also more socially acceptable. Let's face it - we have long been a drug culture. But in the past few years, society has embraced them at a frightening pace. From 1997 to 2003, spending on prescription drugs nearly tripled from $78.9 billion to $216.4 billion for over 500,000 different drugs.
Moreover, while schools have adopted "zero tolerance" policies where all drugs are concerned, including over-the-counter ones such as Tylenol, it is uncertain how effective they truly are in cutting back on the proliferation of drugs and drug sharing among children.
While fashioning laws and rules to curtail use is warranted and expected to be productive, changing the culture will require much more. Parents and communities will have to educate themselves on the subject, learning that by the time the police get involved - it's too late. Addiction or death may be imminent.