Friday, February 24, 2012

We're All Being Robbed

Just two weeks ago, on an otherwise uneventful Saturday afternoon, the Medicap Pharmacy across the highway from our little suburb was robbed by two armed men. They came not for cash but for pain killers like Dilaudid and oxycodone, and left with over a $1000 worth of them. Pharmacist Mel Anderson and one of his employees were bound and forced into a back room where they were able to get the license number and description of the men’s vehicle, and the two perpetrators were jailed two days later.

Addiction to prescription drugs has reached epidemic proportions in this country, a problem made worse by prescription medications being marketed constantly on TV and in other media. These ads, paid for by drug companies who are making huge profits from increased sales, promise a sure fix for depression, anxiety, erectile dysfunction and for whatever ails us, adding to the mindset that there is a pill for every problem.

People who get hooked on the effects of opiates like those contained in products like Percocet and OxyContin will do almost anything to satisfy their addictions. Aside from stealing them, some go to hospital emergency rooms on weekends or evenings after hours and complain of a severe tooth ache, kidney stones, or other conditions, and leave with a prescription they either use themselves or sell on the streets for a profit. And some physicians are all too willing to prescribe such drugs for people who seek help for real or faked chronic pain.

In 2009, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 16 million Americans age 12 and older had taken a prescription pain reliever, tranquilizer, stimulant, or sedative for nonmedical purposes at least once in the year prior to being surveyed. A NIDA-funded 2010 Monitoring the Future study in 2010 showed that 2.7% of 8th graders, 7.7% of 10th graders, and 8.0% of 12th graders had abused Vicodin and 2.1% of 8th graders, 4.6% of 10th graders, and 5.1% of 12th graders had abused OxyContin for nonmedical purposes at least once in the year prior to being surveyed.

Here are some ways we all might help address the problem:

1. Limit our personal use of pills to a bare minimum, and focus on preventive medicine and more healthy lifestyles as our preferred ways of feeling better.

2. Teach our children by word and example that happiness can’t be found in a bottle, and that there are no quick fixes or easy solutions for everyday life problems.

3. Insist on legislators banning all media advertising of prescription drugs, already the case in most countries.  Our  lawmakers are subject to intense lobbying by drug companies to maintain the status quo.

4. Promote having a special Drug Court in every jurisdiction to respond to crimes involving misuse of both prescription and illegal drugs. Such courts are already in place in many urban areas.

 5. Provide drug treatment programs for non-violent offenders instead of overcrowding our prisons with more and more our addicted population at a cost to us taxpayers of over $26,000 a year per inmate (in Virginia), enough to pay for a year of college.

Our present approach to drug problems isn’t working. And it’s robbing all of us.
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