Prescription drug issues leaves many questions

I recently completed a three-part series on the perils of prescription drug abuse — ranging from physical and mental dangers, to an uptick in property crimes to the damages done to friends and family members of those addicted to the pills. We spoke with numerous members of the community, officials in non-profit organizations and care facilities and those in law enforcement, along with one family who was struggling with this in their own home.

I knew this was a growing problem, both nationally and locally, and that is why I set out to do the piece in the first place. We’ve received numerous releases from local and state police officials regarding crimes involving prescription pills, I’ve heard third-person and personal accounts concerning the damages that addictions cause to families and anyone who pays attention at all to national news has seen the headlines concerning celebrities and athletes falling victim to the dangers of these pills.

However, I was naive to the scope of the situation. Prescription pill use is now only behind marijuana in terms of prevalency of recreational drugs. There are more overdoses each year in this country due to prescription pill abuse than heroin and cocaine combined. And conversations with people at Sussex Correctional Institute educated me to the notion that the prison is now filled with people who have become involved with these drugs.

It’s frightening, people. And it really can happen to anybody.

We learned during this story that many people become addicted to these drugs in the first place because of a legitimate prescription to a painkiller or the like. The constant reliance on the medicine can build up a tolerance on these people, and they find the need to feed themselves the drug more and more to help deal with the pain they face. As was noted by a pain relief doctor in our piece, there is a small dose of euphoria that hits people when they first take the medication, and people sometimes find themselves taking the pills more often to replicate that euphoria.

And then they’re addicted. Just like that.

We also became well-aware of the term “doctor shopping” while researching this piece. This is when people go to numerous doctors to obtain prescriptions for these drugs. People might go to two, three, eight doctors in a week and obtain similar prescriptions to feed their habits. Gov. Markell approved legislation last year to build a central database in the state for pharmacists where they can look up a patient’s history and see just how many prescriptions they might have going at a given time. That system should be up and running by the end of this year, according to state officials.

I learned an incredible amount about prescription pill abuse while researching this story, but I am also left with many questions. Though pharmaceutical companies are trying to alter the drugs so they are inactive if crushed up so people can inject or snort the drugs, the fact remains that people can still ingest them and get dangerous effects.

• Is a ban on prescription pain relievers the answer? No. There are too many benefits for the majority of people who use them responsibly.

• Will the database system eradicate the problem? No. Street dealers also sell these pills, and people will get them if they want them badly enough. And many people are obtaining the drugs by stealing them from medicine cabinets.

• Is there any realistic way to stop this problem? Well, education could help stop individuals, without a doubt. But there has been education on “street drugs” for decades now, and they’re not going anywhere.

• What next? We honestly have no idea. But we promise to stay on top of the issue in the future.

The fact of the matter is that prescription drug abuse is hitting people that might not have been in the drug culture previously. Construction workers, farmers and athletes are obtaining legitimate prescriptions for these pills and it’s just so easy to slip into a dangerous addiction — particularly when you consider that people see them as legal and necessary.

But it’s also hard for these people to come to grips to the fact that they indeed have a problem, and the stigma attached to drug addiction is such that people are afraid to seek help if they do acknowledge a problem. It’s just scary.