13 Apr Hospitalizations for Prescription Drug Abuse on the Rise
Prescription drug poisoning is now the second leading cause of death from injury in the US. A recent study by the Injury Control Research Center in West Virginia showed that hospitalizations for accidental overdoses of painkillers and sedatives rose by one-third from 1999 to 2006. Although the overdoses were accidental, the patients had all be intentionally abusing the prescription drugs, including Vicodin, Pecocet, Valium and Ativan. Intentional overdoses jumped by one hundred and thirty percent during the same period. In comparison, hospitalizations due to use of illegal drugs, such as heroin, rose only by one fifth.
Young women most likely to overdose from prescription drug abuse
The study found that women under age 34 were most likely to be admitted to the hospital for an accident prescription drug overdose. Further, patients were more likely to live in urban areas, and were more likely to have Medicare as their primary form of insurance. On the other hand, men were more likely to be admitted for accidental overdose, while women were more likely to overdose intentionally.
There has been an overall increase of the dispensing of opiates and painkillers in the US in the past two decades, which may account for the increase in prescription drug abuse. While most adults are able to regulate their own prescription drug intake to ingest only what they need, a small percentage of patients become addicted to the medication that doctors have prescribed for them. Further, patients who fail to properly dispose of unused opiates and sedatives may be unwittingly adding to the prescription drug abuse problem by leaving a ready supply of addictive drugs unattended in medicine cabinets that are accessible to family and friends.
As a result of the study, there are renewed calls for better monitoring of prescription drug dispensing in the US, including more effective communication between doctors and pharmacies. Researches also advocate for improved education programs to alert the public about the dangers of prescription drug abuse, as well as intensified law enforcement efforts to identify unethical pharmacies and illegal Internet dispensing operations.
Prescription Drug Abuse in Teens
The ability for teens to purchase prescription drugs over the Internet is an emerging threat that has been met with swift action by the United States Congress. The practice involves an online “pharmacy” referring the patient to a “doctor” for consultation (all done online); the doctor then authorizes the prescription for whatever drug the customer wishes to purchase. In 2008, both houses passed the Ryan Haight Act, which aims to regulate Internet sales of prescription drugs to teens. Eighteen-year-old Haight died from an overdose of painkillers that were prescribed to him by a doctor that he never even saw. Regulations for compliance with the Act were put in place by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in early 2009 and include requiring at least one face-to-face medical consultation before certain drugs can be purchased online.
The restrictions under the Act apply only to controlled substances. Controlled substances are psychoactive drugs and other substances such as narcotics, stimulants, depressants, hallucinogens, and anabolic steroids that have potential for abuse and are likely to result in drug dependence or addiction when abused.
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