New federal data shows that deaths from prescription painkillers have decreased for the first time since 1999. This comes as good news after the U.S. has been associated with some pretty terrible names over the last decade. Do pill nation, pill poppers, and pill mills ring a bell?
With fewer deaths recorded, does this mean that some of the efforts to control drug abuse have been effective? Yes and no.
The federal data reports that, incidentally, heroin deaths have surged in recent years. This suggests that people are turning to heroin since federal and state restrictions have made it harder to obtain prescription pain pills.
Let’s break this down. Although the law is cracking down on the availability of prescription medication, the real problem is not being dealt with. This is the scariest truth of all: even if you take away what seems to be the source of the problem (the drug), the person will find something else to feed their addiction. The only real solution is getting the addict treatment.
Data Shows Deaths from Prescription Meds Have Dropped
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2012, the latest year for which data is available, deaths from prescription painkillers have dropped 5 percent. Deaths from all prescription drug categories have dropped 3 percent. Those working for the drug control policy office agree that their efforts at state, federal, and local levels have been effective.
Drug control efforts include cracking down on doctors who loosely prescribe the medications, and prescription drug monitoring programs that make it more difficult for drug abusers to get prescription medication from more than one doctor. The number of states that implement these programs has increased twofold, with 48 states participating compared to the 20 states that once were.
Heroin Deaths Have Surged
A closer look puts a dampener on the good news, however. Heroin use has surged, leading to a 35 percent increase in heroin overdose deaths. It’s speculated that some people who were addicted to prescription painkillers have turned to heroin, which produces a similar high. At The River Source, we find that there is validity to this theory. Drug abusers admit that when prescription pain pills get more expensive and less available, heroin is a possible next step.
Of course, not everyone who abuses prescription drugs moves onto heroin. And just because drug control cracks down on one drug doesn’t mean people will automatically shift to another. Still, this raises an important question: How can we intervene with people who are progressing from prescription drugs to heroin?
How to Intervene in the Cycle of Abuse
Below are some points to think about as you watch out for the best interests of your friends and family. You don’t have to wait until someone is near rock bottom to get them help. Intervening early on makes recovery easier and more effective.
Monitor dosages. When pain meds are used appropriately, they have a low risk of addiction. But, it’s common to see people who have prescribed the drugs take more than they need to or continue taking the medication even though they are pain-free. Be a good friend and monitor the dosages.
Take questionable behavior seriously. Even though these medications are legal, they are dangerous when used recreationally. Unfortunately, some people miss the signs of abuse because they don’t place these drugs in the same category as illegal substances. If you have a friend or family member who uses prescription drugs recreationally, don’t undermine the issue.
Deal with underlying issues. Not all addicts have underlying conditions, but some do. If you know someone who is dealing with anxiety, depression, or relationship problems and has been loosely using prescription meds, intervene and deal with the root of the problem. Talk therapy or alternative therapies like acupuncture, neurofeedback, hypnosis, or massage therapy can all be effective.
Know the signs. Finally, know the signs of addiction. Not everyone fits the common addict stereotype. Your husband may continue to go to work each day; your daughter may bring home great grades. This doesn’t write off the possibility that a dependency is forming. Be aware of the red flags of addiction.
Photo credit: Richard Dunstan