Most envision addiction as being the result of some underground, highly secretive, and maybe even defiant, undertaking. You know: the group of adolescent friends driving aimlessly after the football game while drinking, or the friends doing lines of cocaine in some bathroom, or the couple of students smoking a joint out in the distant areas of a school campus, or the rowdy music-loving teenagers taking some ecstasy or other hallucinogenic at a wild and loud concert venue.
On the other side of the spectrum is the highly-successful professional who drinks a couple of drinks at every business lunch or immediately upon walking through the home front door at the end of the day. Then there is the depressed mother who questions her value and the direction of her daily life and smokes a joint whenever the doubt rings too loudly in her head, or the overworked health-care provider who uses methamphetamine in order to perform in the high-stress work environment that is the job.
While it is true that these scenarios are common and well known, the reality is that there is a much less known and more pervasive trend involving addiction and prescription drugs. The very medicines that your doctor has perhaps prescribed because of an injury or other condition turns out to be the drug that your teenager discovers to be “fun” and in high demand among peers. While this may happen, adults also can complacently fall in to the routine of numbing any discomfort – be it physical or mental – with the little pill readily available in the medicine cabinet and introduced with the hastily written directions given at the family doctor’s office.
How Close Is Addiction To My Neighborhood?
Because of easy access (the household bathroom medicine cabinet) and low cost (the prescription has already been purchased at the local drug store), a portion of the risk and stigma that is attached to illicit drugs has already been removed. There is no need to seek out the local drug dealer or to saddle up to the downtown bar, prescription drug addiction is far too easy.
There is no need to accumulate and carry large sums of money, to carry and store quantities of drugs, or to store bottles of alcohol in a secret location. All that is needed – it turns out – is a partially full prescription bottle kept in an easily accessible place and the high is, quite literally, moments away with no need for a transaction or interaction with anyone else.
A Shocking Statistic
Reports by the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) show that between the years of 1991 – 2007 there has been a 700% increase in prescription amphetamine abuse among high school seniors. Within that same period of time, there has been another huge jump in prescription opioid and benzodiazepine abuse among the same age group. These facts send a strong and urgent signal that our imagined pictures of drug abuse among adolescents need to be seriously redrawn.
The same jump in prescription drug addiction among adults has been demonstrated and is now a common feature in the news as we hear of the tragic injuries, and even deaths, among high-profile celebrities and leaders of society. Make no mistake – this is not a situation particular to those viewed as pampered and/or wealthy.
The reality is that with the onset of pharmaceutical advertisements and the open discussion of the benefits of such drugs as Xanax for the depressed or Oxycontin for those recovering from a medical procedure or injury, prescription drug use is now a part of our everyday conversation. This rarely causes a raised eyebrow as the conversation of these medicine’s benefits are praised and even advocated.
A Hope for the Communities Affected
The truth is that addiction to prescription drugs is just as possible, if not more so, than to any substance obtained on the street. The same type of addictive behavior that is attributed to alcohol abuse or drug addiction develops over an often very short period of time with prescribed medications, sometimes in as short a period of time as 30 days. The same negative consequences to the body and personal interactions often await as the addiction to medications that have been prescribed take hold.
What is also true is that treatment for an addiction to any prescription drug requires a period of detoxification and therapy just as is needed for alcohol or any other drug. It is important that an acknowledgement be made to the fact that addiction to any substance has physical and mental components that are complex. There is an irrefutable need for these issues to be fully addressed in a structured and directed setting in order to adequately build and promote sustainable recovery.
Sidney Sarfaty, LAADC