Addictions to prescription medication are a little-known epidemic in our country.
An estimated 7 million people are addicted to prescription drugs. Even scarier, 3,405,000 young people between the ages of 12 and 20 took a prescription medication as their first entry into "using" drugs and alcohol, according to the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. In at least 17 states, death from drugs - both prescription and illegal - exceed those from motor vehicle accidents, with painkillers playing a leading role.
When asked where they got these prescriptions drugs, teens and adults both reported that 70 percent of the drugs were taken, stolen or bought from the medicine cabinet of a friend or family member. Home robberies for medicines, particularly targeting the sick and elderly, are dramatically on the rise as well.
Twelve billion doses of medications like Vicodin, Percocet, Oxycontin, Ritalin and Xanax are prescribed each year in the U.S. These painkillers, stimulants and anti-anxiety medications are commonly prescribed for dental procedures, operations or when people are suffering from anxiety, lack of concentration or pain. This is what makes prescription medications so dangerous: People lower their inhibitions about taking these drugs, thinking that because a doctor prescribed these medications, they are safe. And, if they are safe, people reason, they are safe in different combinations or quantities.
Most Americans, research finds, hold onto their unused medications, fearing they may need them in the future. A common scenario is that when a teen starts to experiment with drugs and alcohol, he or she can simply get into the family medicine cabinet. Or a friend or family member who is addicted to prescription medications comes over for a visit, asks to use your restroom, and you never notice the medications are gone.
The Drug Enforcement Administration is developing a system so that we can dispose of our medications easily. Until a system is in place, the agency encourages participation in drug take-back days. In the last year, the DEA has coordinated two prescription medication take-back days. It collected 618,593 pounds of prescription medications, from people like you and me, at drop-off sites across the country.
There is another take-back day scheduled for Oct. 29. If you are interested in hosting a drop-off site, you can find Nevada's contact person on the DEA website, www.justice.gov/dea/. Dropping off medications is completely anonymous and will result in no questions asked. Do not dispose of unused medications in the trash or toilet; this can cause health and safety problems with the water we drink.
For parents, it is important to discuss prescription medication abuse when you talk with your children about drugs and alcohol. Lock your medicine cabinet. And turn in your unused or expired medications on between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Oct. 29. Information is coming soon about where these sites will be.
• Lisa Keating, Ph.D., is a Carson City clinical psychologist.