Parents often worry that their kids might succumb to the urgings of some street-corner dealer and get addicted to drugs.
Probably considerably fewer worry that they’ll be the “dealer” who helps hook their kids on mind-altering substances, but it happens every day in America.
“We’ve had reports of parties within our jurisdiction that involve younger kids raiding medicine cabinets, bringing the pills to the party, putting them in a bowl,” said Keith Davis, chief agent with the Lafayette Metro Narcotics Task Force.
“There’ll be antidepressants, painkillers, antibiotics, tranquilizers – prescription and over-the-counter medicine all mixed together, and people just grab some at random.”
In the 2007 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, nearly 7 percent of youth ages 12 to 17 reported nonmedical use of prescription painkillers in the past year. Rates of abuse were highest – more than 12 percent – among the 18-25 age group.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, among 12th-graders, eight of the 13 most commonly abused drugs (excluding tobacco and alcohol) were prescription or over-the-counter medications. In more than half the cases reported, the drugs were given to them or were purchased from a friend or relative. The most abused prescription drug was Vicodin.
Youth who use other drugs are more likely to abuse prescription medications – and vice versa.
According to the 2001 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse (now the NSDUH), 63 percent of youth who had used prescription drugs nonmedically in the past year had also used marijuana in the past year, compared with 17 percent of youth who had not used prescription drugs nonmedically in the past year. (That question was not included in later studies.)
The U.S. Department of Education’s Higher Education Center for Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Violence Prevention reports that prescription drug abuse continues to the college level and it is a growing trend on most campuses.
“Students are using these drugs inappropriately to not only ‘get high,’ but to help with concentration when cramming for papers or tests, to self-medicate for anxiety or depression, and even to enhance their stamina when playing sports,” states a report at www.higheredcenter.org.
Davis sees the same trend.
“You have one set of pills that give you a high, a euphoric feeling, and your Adderalls are an amphetamine that keeps you alert,” he said. “Some college students use them to stay up all night partying or staying up all night to study.”
At the other end of the age spectrum are the elderly. While prescription drug abuse is seldom a social or recreational activity for the elderly, any abuse is serious.
“The elderly are among those most vulnerable to prescription drug abuse or misuse because they are prescribed more medications than their younger counterparts,” said NIDA Director Nora Volkow, M.D.
Unintentional misuse may result from multiple and long-term prescriptions, but the elderly also are at risk for intentional abuse of painkillers and sedatives. Increased sensitivity to drugs and interactions among multiple prescriptions or over-the-counter medications can put elderly users at increased risk for serious effects.
As high as the risk of addiction can be, the risks from taking prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons don’t end with that possibility.
There’s risk to innocent people as well: A National Institute on Drug Abuse study in 2009 showed that more than one in eight young adults in the past 12 months had driven while under the influence of either illicit drugs or misused prescription drugs.
And, of course, there are the well-known life-wrecking aspects of drug abuse, from loss of employment and family estrangement to crime – both in the actual procurement of prescriptions and in the thefts and frauds that some use to pay for drugs.
“I’ve heard Lortab on the street goes for $7-10 a pill,” said James Tyson, director of substance abuse services at Haven House, a Region II Mental Health facility in Oxford. “If they’re taking that much medication, can they work? Is Mama giving them money?”
Davis emphasized that, unlike some drug habits, prescription drug abuse cuts across every demographic measure.
“It’s in every walk of life. Pharmaceutical abuse is something in our culture,” he said. “It’s from poor to rich, from young to old, black and white.”
Contact Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
About this series
This is the second of a three-day series examining the drug problem in Northeast Mississippi and tracking the history of how each drug got here.
Sunday: What’s trending
Sunday: The history of meth and crack
Today: Prescription drug abuse
Tuesday: The cost of enforcement
Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal