The DEA’s National Take-Back Initiative, National Take-Back Day, set for April 27, is the perfect time to dispose of your unused or unwanted prescription medications. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, people have properly disposed of more than 2 million pounds of prescription medications in the last five Take-Back Day events. So why bother taking part? With the alarming rise of prescription abuse and overdose rates among teens and their adult family members, now is a more important time than ever to do what little we can to help prevent more unnecessary deaths and hospital visits.
The Prescription Abuse Problem
While most teens and adults do not consider prescribed drugs to be as dangerous as heroin or cocaine (they’re FDA-approved substances after all, right?), prescription drug abuse is a big and growing health problem. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) states that “prescription drugs are the third most commonly abused category of drugs,” accounting for more deaths and rates of abuse than cocaine, heroin and hallucinogens combined. And the abuse trends are still skyrocketing. Overall, the NCADD estimates that about 48 million people have abused prescription drugs—nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population
Prescription drugs that are commonly abused include pain relievers, sedatives and stimulants. The top 10 offenders in terms of abuse and death rate are:
Sam’s Close Call
Prescription abuse affects everyone in the community, and just about everyone in my high school and college knew someone who abused, overdosed, or nearly died from prescription abuse. In my friend’s case—let’s call him Sam—it was the combination of hydrocodone and alcohol that hospitalized and nearly killed him just after he turned 18.
It turned out that Sam and a couple of his friends had a prescription pill problem for a while, but they hid it so well that no one, including us, had any idea. But one night it all came crashing down. I still remember when we got the call. Sam had been rushed to the hospital by ambulance from a party after he passed out and wouldn’t wake up. It had been the same sort of party that he’d gone to many times, but for some reason Sam’s body couldn’t take it anymore. It was a long, scary ordeal, but he made it out alive. Sam still doesn’t remember what happened that night, but he did go to rehab and allowed his body to detox after his close call. Withdrawal was very difficult for him, but he never complained. He just kept saying how happy he was to get a second chance. He is still in therapy to understand why he abused prescription drugs in the first place.
Not everyone who abuses prescription drugs is as lucky as Sam. A quick Google News search will pull up dozens of prescription overdose deaths in the last month alone, including many teen deaths. Unfortunately, according to one recent survey, 40 percent of teens still believe that prescription pills, including those not prescribed by a doctor, are safer than illegal drugs. Many fear that this misconception could be a factor in the rising rates of prescription abuse in teens. Nearly 40,000 American died last year from drug overdoses, and well over half of those deaths (22,000) were from prescription pills.
How Proper Prescription Disposal Helps
Waterway Pollution: Why take the pills to a drop-off center when you can flush them down the toilet? There are many chemicals, hormones and other substances in prescription pills that can wreak havoc on the local waterways. It is far safer to drop them off where there’s no chance of contamination.
Self-Medication: It’s tempting to save those extra antibiotics or Vicodin pills in case you get sick or injured, but it’s best to avoid the temptation. Overuse and improper use of antibiotics renders them less effective and can make an infection or illness worse, while some pain killers or steroids may be inappropriate or dangerous for your current situation, even if they worked well just a couple months ago.
Opportunity for Abuse: Unlike illegal drugs such as marijuana and cocaine, the majority of prescription drug abusers, both teens and adults, get their drugs from family members, usually by raiding a medicine cabinet without their knowledge.
We may never be able to wipe out prescription drug abuse with events like these. After all, those who make a profit are certainly not going to give up their illegal revenue, and many others would prefer to save their prescriptions for later to save on money or doctor’s visits. But by safely disposing of thousands of pounds of unused drugs and promoting awareness, perhaps our community can put a significant dent in the problem.