Which War on Drugs?
Recently prescription drug abuse related deaths in Oklahoma surpassed illegal or street drug related deaths. Is the “War on Drugs” fighting the right enemy? Or, should the focus on drug abuse and addiction be shifted to the growing problem of prescription drug abuse. Maybe, the battlegrounds of the war should include expanding treatment and prevention programs.
Is it a problem of access to easy-to-obtain prescriptions from unscrupulous physicians? Or, by the person who “doctor shops” to get multiple prescriptions from different sources? Or, by purchasing drugs through the internet? Or buying prescription drugs on “the street”? No matter where prescription drugs come from they are readily available, easy to become addicted to and have a potential for lethal effect as the person’s use pattern grows.
Our efforts to eradicate the drug trade originating in other countries has done nothing to effect the over- prescription, easy access and other means by which people can become addicted to prescription pain medications. Prescription drug abuse and addiction can start with a false belief that prescribed medications are safer than illegal drugs. Addiction can begin with a trip to an emergency room for a broken arm and a multiple refill prescription for pain medication. It can be furthered by the person who visits physicians in multiple towns or across state lines with the same complaints of pain and discomfort. A visit to a friend’s house and a quick inspection of the family medicine cabinet can be another source of supply. A stolen and forged prescription pad can provide a source of drugs until a pharmacist performs a simple verification check. And, the purchase of prescription pain meds on “the street” can offer another source of supply to meet the demands of a society getting hooked on prescription medications.
In our programs at Brookhaven we treat substance abuse and are acutely aware of the problems caused by the increase in addiction to prescription medications, including by individuals who abuse or are addicted to multiple medications. We know how difficult detox can be and how maintaining a drug-free lifestyle can be an almost impossible task. We also know that people succeed in winning a very personal “War on Drugs” when they can make a commitment to treatment for themselves and will take the initiative to implement changes in their lifestyle, including finding new friends which can support them in their sobriety. Prescription drug abuse and addiction has added a new dimension to the problem and one which will difficult to eliminate. We need to examine the “war on drugs” and broaden the effort to include prescription medications and the points of availability. Similarly, we need to create more access to substance abuse and addiction treatment programs through insurance dollars and publicly funded programs.