Prescription Drug Prices Keep Rising; Abuse Problem Seemingly Unaffected

Prescription Drug Prices Keep Rising; Abuse Problem Seemingly Unaffected

The last five years or so have seen the price of medical products and services go up, but major news sources say that prescription drugs have risen fastest. On average, recognized name brand prescription medications rose by 6.6 percent each year, however, some brands rose by as much as 8.3 percent during that time. Those increases may not sound so bad until you compare them to the rise in medical costs in general which rose at a more modest 3.8 percent each year. If that is the case, one might hope that the cost cloud has a silver lining. Perhaps the rise in the cost of prescription drugs has taken a bite out of the prescription drug abuse epidemic. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be the case.

The second biggest drug problem in America has nothing to do with Latin drug lords or foreign drug cartels. It is largely a domestic issue. That is because, after marijuana, the most often abused drugs in this country are prescription drugs. This problem cannot be traced to poor Bolivian farmers, crooked cops in Peru or greedy cartels in Central America – it is being perpetrated by complicit pharmacists, physicians, nurses and unaware American family members. The prescription drug abuse problem seems tied to the number of Americans taking these drugs – and that number continues to rise.

A 2009 survey found that over 30 percent of teenagers who decided to try drugs for the first time, chose to take prescription drugs. The same report revealed that 70 percent of the time kids get those drugs from someone they know – like a friend or family member. A mere five percent got illicit prescriptions from an outside source like the Internet or a street dealer. Most of the time, painkillers are the drug of choice, but stimulants and anti-anxiety medications are also widely abused.

To combat the problem, state legislatures across the country are looking for ways to strengthen the local authorities’ ability to close pill mills and punish irresponsible pharmacies. Pill mills are often billed as pain clinics with a doctor who is ready and willing to hand out prescriptions for painkillers like OxyContin and Vicodin. As the price of these drugs has risen, users have simply turned to the generic brands. Generic drugs contain the same active ingredient but cost far less. In fact, the survey which found that drug costs had risen faster than overall medical costs, also found that when generic costs were factored in, the actual rise in cost was lower (just 2.6 percent).

Meanwhile, the best thing average citizens can do is to keep their homes empty of unused or expired medications and to keep careful watch over prescription drugs being legitimately taken by a household member. To help families, the DEA has joined with local authorities to sponsor drug take-back days. In 2012, 244 tons of prescription drugs were turned in by families. Generic or brand name, expensive or bargain-priced, the drugs need to be carefully guarded while they are being used and carefully disposed of if they are not.

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