The United States contains about 4.6 percent of the world's population, and consumes upwards of eighty percent of the world's opioids. In a 2006 survey, more Americans (age 12 and older) reported trying painkillers for their first time than marijuana for their first time. The rate of prescription painkiller abuse is growing significantly, as can be seen by the 2006 study that showed the abuse of painkillers doubled from 1999 to 2006. Opioids are drugs that bind to the opioid receptors in the brain. There are three types of opioids that are commonly abused. Opiates are chemicals extracted directly from the opium poppy, such as morphine, codeine, and thebaine. Semisynthetic derivatives are compounds that are made from the existing chemicals, such as dicetylmorphine (heroin), oxycodone, and hydrocodone. Finally, there are completely synthetic opioids that are completely made in a laboratory, like fentanyl, buprenorphine, and methadone. As opioid abuse rates grow, various organizations are working to enact measures to stop opioid abuse.
The Drug Enforcement Agency
The DEA has recently taken notice of the increasing prescription painkiller abuse. On September 25, 2010 they organized the national drug "Take-Back" campaign. The idea was to allow Americans to go to a nearby drop off point and leave any prescription drugs they wished, no questions asked. Many people are prescribed helpful yet dangerous medications, and are not sure what to do with them when they no longer are needed. Some may keep them in their medicine cabinet for future use or abuse, some give them to a friend or family member, and some flush them down the toilet or throw them in the trash. None of these means are effective, but it is illegal under federal law for an individual to give prescription medications to anyone other than a law enforcement agency. The DEA set up at over four thousand locations and collected over 120 tons of prescription pills. They plan to set up another similar program in the following year, as it proved to be effective in the disposal of a staggering amount of dangerous medications.
Some pharmaceutical companies, such as King Pharmaceutical, are taking action to stop the opioid abuse. There are three actions that these companies can take to help the opioid issue. The first method of preventing abuse of prescription medications is the creation of a slow-releasing gel capsule. These caps containing opioids are not effective unless the reach the stomach fully intact. Chewing them, as many addicts do with regular pills, will leave no effect on the individual. Another technique for the reduction of abuse is the inclusion of coated pellets of naltrexone. If the pills are taken as prescribed, they do what they were intended to. However, if they are crushed in an attempt to chew, snort, or smoke, the naltrexone will cancel out the opioid high, thus creating no effect. Finally, some companies are including substantial doses of niacin, a common vitamin. Harmless in the correct dose, niacin is an essential vitamin to human health. If, however, the person takes more than prescribed, the niacin can have negative effects such as sweating, flushing of the face, and nausea.
Abuse is very dangerous, and can cause many serious and sometimes fatal side effects. The abuse of opioids is becoming quite an issue, as these drugs are very helpful to many people struggling with pain. As awareness of the issue grows, measure to stop opioid abuse must be taken.
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