A Prescribed Epidemic

A Prescribed EpidemicAccording to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), every three minutes, a woman goes to the emergency room for prescription painkiller misuse or abuse. The CDC also reports that nearly 48,000 women died of prescription medication overdoses between 1999 and 2010. This is a fast growing epidemic, especially for women. Deaths among women have increased more than 400 percent since 1999, compared to 265 percent among men. Furthermore, for every woman who dies of a prescription painkiller overdose, another 30 end up in hospital emergency rooms for prescription drug misuse or abuse.

What is the problem?
“Wait a minute,” you may be saying, “what prescription epidemic?” Whether this is the first you are hearing of it or your family has been impacted by it directly, our nation is facing a drug crisis. This crisis is not spawned by South American drug lords. The drugs are not illegal narcotics either. No, this epidemic is one affecting our next door neighbors – a crisis hidden in medicine cabinets and school bathrooms around the country. Specifically, “prescription painkillers” refers to opioid or narcotic pain relievers, including drugs such as Vicodin (hydrocodone), OxyContin (oxycodone), Opana (oxymorphone), and methadone.

America is the most prescription-dependent nation in the world. It is estimated that Americans use 75 percent of the world’s prescription medications. We take pills for everything! Of course, why change our diet or lifestyle when we can simply take doctor-prescribed medication to cure all our health ailments and deficiencies? Need to lose an extra 15 pounds? Feeling a little anxious? Need help focusing for that exam? Just pop a pill. It is as easy as that, and then you are good to go. But have we truly weighed the cost and measured the consequences?

A culture of overdiagnosis
The over-diagnosis of conditions like depression, Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is absurd. Over the past decade, the use of antidepressants in America has risen a staggering 400 percent. In fact, studies show that at least one of every ten Americans takes an antidepressant. The statistics carry over as well when considering that one in ten children are diagnosed with ADD/ADHD. This more than doubles what psychiatrists and researchers have claimed should be the actual percentage among a given population. The problem with these diagnoses is that they tend to focus on effects rather than causes. The rationale: as long as a patient has certain symptoms, then he or she must have ADHD or depression. However, we know that there are many variables that can affect a person’s moods and their ability to focus — diet, exercise, environment, and temperament just to name a few. The problem here is a cultural-societal one.

Let us revisit the fact that prescription painkiller deaths have skyrocketed in women since 1999 — increasing as much as five times. There has been an explosion of prescription misuse and abuse that has led to these countless deaths. “About 18 women die every day of a prescription painkiller overdose in the US, with more than 6,600 deaths in 2010 alone. Prescription painkiller overdoses are an under-recognized and growing problem for women” (CDC).

Women are more at risk due to several factors. For one, women are more likely to have chronic pain, therefore, women tend to be prescribed higher doses and use medications longer than men do. Women may also become dependent more quickly, and become more likely to seek out prescriptions from multiple doctors.

What is being done?
Currently, all levels of government are seeking solutions to the epidemic. Information and education are the key. Researchers are continuing to learn more about the potential side effects of medications, as well as being able to better diagnose patients. Groups like the CDC and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) are working diligently to educate both the professionals and the public. Health care providers too are increasingly recognizing the risks of prescription painkillers and taking responsibility. Doctors must ensure that guidelines are followed for responsible prescribing, including screening and monitoring for substance abuse and mental health problems. Prescription drug monitoring programs are also being used to identify patients who may be improperly obtaining or using prescription medicines and other drugs.

What can you do?
Ask questions
Make sure to discuss all medications (including over-the-counter) with your doctor. Always ask questions before taking any medication. Know exactly what you are putting into your body, or giving your children. Do not just brush off the responsibility saying, “Oh, the doctors know what they are doing.” Ignorance is never an excuse in these matters. “A prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions. The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences” (Proverbs 22:3).

Follow Directions
Use prescriptions only as directed, store them in a secure place, and dispose of medications properly. Do not use expired medications, and do not combine prescriptions. Never use another person’s prescription drugs.

Raise Awareness
Education of both health care providers and the public is needed about prescription drug misuse, abuse, suicide, overdose, and the risks for women. Hosea 4:6 reminds us that “people are destroyed from a lack of knowledge” (NIV).

Pray for the families that have been devastated by tragedies of lost loved ones. Pray that God would loose the influence of the Enemy on the hearts and minds of people. Pray that healthcare professionals would have the burden to heal and protect, not just look for a paycheck. And pray that God grants you the strength and courage to recognize and respond to the warning signs.

For more information visit the CDC (cdc.gov) and the OECD (oecd.org) websites.
For help with substance abuse problems call: (1-800-662-HELP)
For questions about medicines or drugs call Poison Help: (1-800-222-1222)
Finley Walker is a freelance writer. He can be reached at: [email protected].

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