THE PAINKILLER EPIDEMIC: HOW IS IT AFFECTING OUR YOUTH?
The rate of prescription drug abuse among youth has increased significantly over the past decade. The misconception that prescription drugs are safer than other drugs because they are legal has contributed to the rise in this abuse. The abuse of painkillers, a common opioid or prescription drug, especially needs to be looked at since this is the most frequently abused of all pharmaceuticals, the most common being OxyContin and Vicodin. It is important that parents, health professionals and prevention specialists address this issue and help prevent our youth from becoming addicted.
Why is it that youths abuse prescription drugs? The reasons are similar to that for other drugs, commonly including being able to deal with emotions, to try and fit in with their peers and the misconception that these are safer than other drugs because they are prescribed by physicians. Youth also take painkillers for health reasons, such as a sports injury, but it’s when they don’t understand the associated addictive properties that they can get hooked very easily and become addicts. Since the human brain doesn’t fully develop until the age of 25, youth are at a higher risk of becoming addicted. With alcohol and marijuana being the two substances most commonly abused by youth, the abuse of painkillers isn’t far behind. A serious issue arises when youth combine prescription pills with other drugs to get a better high. The combination of different substances can have significant consequences, sometimes resulting in death.
Why is it so easy for youth to get their hands on prescription drugs? The simplest way for a youth to get pain pills is through a friend or family member. If the pills are left in a cabinet, it’s very easy for a youth to take a couple unnoticed. They can also get pills from their friend's existing prescription to a painkiller. There are street dealers who sell so-called prescription drugs; most of the time, these drugs are counterfeit and are not produced by pharmaceutical manufacturers. As is the case with all street drugs, the buyer doesn’t really know for sure what the drug contains.
As the number of crimes and deaths increases, it is evident that proper measures need to be taken in order to keep the youth in our communities and homes safe. Prescription drug abuse by youth shouldn’t be taken lightly; it is just as serious and popular as alcohol, marijuana and other drugs. The abuse of pain relievers by youth is six times higher than that among adults. Painkiller abuse causes health problems, affects a youth’s academic performance and can lead to illegal and dangerous behaviour.
Parents have the first opportunity of affecting their youth’s decision regarding abusing painkillers, or any other drug. Some parents talk to their youth about alcohol, marijuana and other illicit drugs, but many forget to discuss pharmaceutical drugs and the severity of using them. Sometimes, a parent may need to do some research on such drugs to be fully informed and provide the appropriate data to their youth. Another step which parents can take is to be a good role model and be sure to take their own medication as prescribed, and to not share it with others. Putting the medication in a secure place and monitoring the number of pills taken is something to remember. If there is any expired or unused medication, it should be disposed of appropriately. Lastly, parents should talk to a health professional if they have any other questions.
Physicians and pharmacists play an important and difficult role in the issue of prescription drug abuse among youth. Prescribing the proper dosage of medication to treat the pain that a youth might have is challenging. Physicians face a dilemma in trying to balance the dosage of what’s needed to help relieve someone’s pain without sending them down the path of addiction. They can be careful to take multiple steps to prevent drug abuse occurring among youth. It is important to explain in detail how to take the medication properly, the effects it may have and any possible drug interactions. If a patient is asking for painkillers more frequently and in higher dosages than usual, this may be a good sign of possible abuse of the medication.
The abuse of prescription drugs among youth will not stop without the efforts of friends, family and health professionals. Being aware of the current trends in substance abuse, especially the abuse of painkillers, is crucial. The consequences of these drugs need to be understood. The accessibility of painkillers is making it too easy for our youth to start using. Our youth need to be educated and it is only through awareness and proper knowledge that there is a chance to protect our youth from ruining their lives.
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