The Silent Epidemic

I read something in the Wall Street Journal recently that blew me away.   I had been hearing about the growth of the problem before when I was speaking at a conference hosted by the Cristian Treatment Center of Palm Beach.  The medical director told me that of the over 100 residents in their treatment program, consistently, over 70% of them were being treated for prescription drug addiction.

What startled me, though, was this statistic reported in the Wall Street Journal:  Each year, over 15,000 Americans die from a prescription drug overdose!  That’s more deaths than from those who die of an overdose of heroin, cocaine, and all the other illegal drugs combined.  That’s more than all the people killed in automobile accidents during a year.  Deaths due to overdoses of prescription drugs is now the #1 cause of accidental death in our country.

As a country, we spend over $15 billion a year fighting illegal drugs, but how do we fight this epidemic?  Every step, from manufacturing to dispensing is identifiable.  We don’t need to look for the “drug lords of prescription drugs.”  We know the manufacturers; we know the doctors; we know the pharmacies.

So who’s to blame?  Well, several pharmacies in Florida had their licenses revoked recently because the Feds felt they were not monitoring how they were filling prescriptions for these three opioids: Oxycodone, Methadone, and Vicodon.  So they can be part of the problem.  Then the DEA found several pain clinics where the doctors would prescribe whatever you wanted.  They were shut down.

Why a problem now?  Up until 15 years ago, doctors did not prescribe opioid medications for pain.  They wouldn’t use them because the doctors knew they were highly addictive.  But patient complaints eventually broke down the barrier and opioids have been increasingly prescribed.  Today, opioid prescriptions bring in over $9 billion in revenue, and that’s only from the legal sales of these drugs..  It’s become big business.  So you can see, one can easily say that all three parties are in part to blame for the silent epidemic.

Here’s what happens in the brain of someone taking these opioids.  There are long-lasting changes that include the rewiring of the area of the brain that craves more drugs.  These medications also damage the part of the brain that controls these cravings.  In addition, the area of the brain that experiences pleasure is damaged so that the person needs to take more of these pills just to feel normal.  And then there is the danger, and the pain, of withdrawal.  Eventually, a person may even begin to obtain their prescribed drug by buying it illegally on the street.

Families need to be aware and on alert, for like any addiction, it is progressive.  The only solution at this point in time is to deal with the problem,one person at a time.  If someone in your family is changing behaviors, withdrawing from social contacts, and having unexplained difficulties, pay attention and find out what’s going on with them.  Don’t let them become one of the 15,000 that will die in 2013.

Question:  How can you become part of the solution to this exploding problem?


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