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Ending Prescription Drug Abuse


Prescription Drugs and AddictionIn today’s every changing world, drug abuse is taking new forms and moving away from street drugs, such as heroin and crack to prescription pills. Prescription painkillers, are responsible for more fatal overdoses in the United States than heroin and cocaine combined.   In 2000, about 43 percent of hospital emergency admissions for drug overdoses (nearly 500,000 people) were due to the misuse of prescription drugs. A study conducted in 2010 by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) estimated that roughly 2.4 million Americans had used prescription drugs non-medically for the first time within the past year. This averages to approximately 6,600 new users per day.  In order to combat what is being called an “epidemic” in some circles, many states have implemented prescription drug monitoring programs. These programs provide data for prescribers, pharmacists, insurers, and law enforcement agents as a means of preventing prescription painkillers from reaching individuals who would abuse them or distribute them illegally. They also serve to inform practitioners and medical professionals if someone is struggling with addiction or abuse.

Seeing as pharmaceuticals are legal and regulated—unlike heroin or cocaine, which come straight off the street—the prescription drugs in question must first find their way from a manufacturer to a distributor, and then to a doctor or wholesaler, before reaching the users’ hands. While some people simply sell off their own prescriptions, there are other routes of supply.

Pill mills are legitimate businesses conducting illegitimate practices. These are pain-management clinics where individuals visit a doctor and pay a fixed amount of cash for their prescriptions of choice, sometimes without a medical evaluation. Doctors often will not discriminate between an actual chronic pain patient and an addict looking for his or her fix, and—seeing as profit is the goal of these operations—why would they? With a single prescription costing upwards of $100, pill mills are highly lucrative businesses. It is also not uncommon for individuals to bounce to and from different legitimate clinics, or “doctor shop,” in hopes of finding a doctor who will write a prescription for whatever drug is asked for.

A Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) is a statewide electronic database that collects designated data on substances dispensed in the state. Each state operates its own PDMP and designates a statewide regulatory, administrative, or law enforcement agency which then distributes data from the database to individuals who are authorized under state law to receive the information (doctors, pharmacists, law enforcement, etc.).

The criterion for who receives this information depends on his or her profession. A study conducted by The Prescription Drug Monitoring Program Center of Excellence at Brandeis University’s Heller School for Social Policy and Management concluded that states that implemented a PDMP reported lower rates of “doctor shopping” and allowed for law enforcement to more easily identify and prosecute “pill mills.” The majority of states with successful PDMP’s discovered that painkiller overdoses were slow to rise when using state-issued prescription forms designed to prevent fraud, and by alerting doctors and pharmacists of potential abuse cases, there was a noticeable decrease in prescription sales.

Since various states have adopted PDMP’s, the rewards and benefits have been seen nationwide.  While PDMP’s have by no means conquered the US’s prescription pill problem, they have put a damper on shady business practices and abuses within the system.


Works Cited:

  1. “As painkiller overdoses mount, researchers outline effective approaches to curb epidemic.”  EurekAlert.com.  20 September 2012.  Web.  02 October 2012.

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Filed under: Addiction, Alcohol and Drugs, Substance Abuse · Tags: National Survey on Drug Use and Health, NSDUH, PDMP, Pharmaceuticals, Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, prescription drugs, prescription medication, prescription painkillers

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