Prescription Drug Abuse

You go to the counter of your local pharmacy, hand the person there the right piece of paper (a valid prescription from any doctor), come back a few minutes later and pay your bill….and you walk out with a bottle of any variety of hard narcotics. It’s totally legal, and chances are, very possibly deadly and/or life-threatening.

Such is the simplicity it is to acquire prescription drugs in the 21st century. In a study conducted in 2003, the NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse) found that 15 million Americans abuse prescription drugs at least once in a 12-month period. Some of the most commonly abused drugs are opiates (ranging from Oxycodone, Vicodin, Norco, etc.) benzodiazepines such as Xanax, Valium and Ativan, and stimulants like Adderall, Dexedrine and amphetamines. As far as recovery is concerned, the process is identical to getting clean from street drugs: detox, followed by in/or outpatient program. And that, as they say, is that. The problem with prescription drugs always lays in the ease it is to acquire them.

One of the most common methods is doctor shopping. Many addicts simply form a network of doctors –some legitimate, some ‘pill writers’ – to fill duplicate prescriptions of their drug of choice. They keep track of the dates that they fill their multiple scripts, pay for office visits when necessary, and keep a heavy supply. Although education and federal restrictions of medical professionals regarding drugs of abuse and addicts that rely on doctor shopping has gotten a little better in the last decade, the problem still persists, and probably will for some time.

One of the biggest problems in this deadly merry-go-round is pill writing doctors. There are innumerable doctors and medical practitioners who boldly go into business solely to perform this practice. Aside from the money there is to be made with office visits and kickbacks from pharmacies, a great many doctors are on the take from the Pharmaceutical Industrial Complex. These are the representatives from various pharmaceutical companies and distributers who visit doctors on a regular basis to ply their wares and ‘educate’ these doctors on new drugs (either in development or just hitting the market).

I spoke with a former nurse practitioner who, understandably, wishes to remain anonymous; we’ll call him Michael. “There are many different ways to make money from the reps….it’s just too easy,” he admitted to me. “For a long time, I just sold samples that I got from the reps. One rep freely laid market bags full of Vicodin samples on me, and it got to the point where I was basically a street dealer; the only difference was that I actually had an office.” Another money-maker was straight pay-offs. “A lot of these reps used to just hand me cash in envelopes…this was ‘encouragement’ to write prescriptions for the current ‘flavor-of-the-month’”, claimed Michael.

It’s a long, complicated trail from research laboratories to pharmaceutical conglomerates to lawmakers, down to reps and finally the prescribing physician. Every link in that chain has the potential/probability for corruption and graft. Where does it end? The only answer is the end user. One of the most basic tenants is to educate the user that drug abuse is the same, no matter what the drug looks like or where it is acquired. Too many addicts hide in denial of their problem with a near-instinctive stance that usually goes, “I’m not an addict; this is a prescription taken on doctor’s orders.” The potential for abuse is always there. You’ve got a serious problem when you get to the point where you’re reversing the doctors’ directive written on the bottle. Instead of taking one tablet every six hours for pain, you’re taking six, hourly. This is a fairly good sign that you have a drug problem.

The sad fact is that in this day and age, we can’t rely on doctors and the lawmakers to help us avoid addiction. It’s up to the individual to educate themselves and learn from those in the recovery community. Drug abuse is drug abuse, no matter the source.

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