When most people are asked about deadly and addictive drugs they might rattle off things like meth, cocaine, or heroin as the most egregious culprits. But in Washington state, legally obtained prescription drugs are responsible for more deaths than all of the aforementioned drugs combined. Local officials have gone so far as to label the phenomenon an epidemic.
These prescription drugs come in many forms with as many names (OxyContin/oxycodone, Vicodin/hydrocodone, Methadone, Demerol/meperidine) but are all man-made derivatives of the original opiate - heroin. These synthetic opioids are most often intended as painkillers and are prescribed for all kinds of ailments ranging from chronic cancer-related pain to post-surgical pain to something relatively simple like irritable bowel syndrome. It is not difficult at all to become addicted to these opiates. And when you consider that they are most often prescribed to reduce severe pain, it becomes understandable to see how patients may end up going over their prescribed dosage, increasing the likelihood that they will increase their body’s tolerance for the drug which very often leads to an addiction that is very difficult to overcome. Doctors have also realized that chronic pain had previously gone undertreated and in response the prescribing of opiates has increased tremendously over the last 20 years. This ubiquity matched with the presumed harmlessness of these drugs (after all, they were designed to help, not hurt) has made prescription painkillers a problem for children as well as adults.
Parents’ misunderstanding of the true dangers of prescription painkillers have made these substances easier for teens to obtain than any illegal drug or even alcohol. The medicine cabinet has supplanted the drug dealer as a young person’s point of access. In fact, about half of prescription drug related deaths involved drugs obtained legally through legitimate prescriptions. Some of these teens may even have their own prescriptions to these painkillers due to sports injuries or surgeries. It has become something of a trend for teens to experiment by mixing drugs with each other and by trading or selling them to friends. Parents should be sure to lock up their medicine cabinets and explain to their children that sharing prescription medications is never a good idea. If any unnecessary or unwanted medications are found, there are programs available for safely disposing of them.