An estimated 62,782,808 million Americans struggle with addiction to prescription drugs everyday. That’s an estimated 20 percent according to www.medlineplus.org, the government sponsored website Medline Plus.
Prescription drug abuse is any use of prescription drugs that is for non-medical purposes. Individuals can develop addictions to narcotic painkiller, sedatives, and tranquilizers and stimulants.
In 2009 the Center for Disease Control (CDC) declared prescription drug abuse an epidemic in the United States.
BYU-Idaho students are no exception to this epidemic that is tightening its grip on our society.
“Many times when I’ve seen [prescription drug abuse], it’s because there’s been a situation where they needed medication, whether it’s because of surgery or pain or because of mental illness,” said President Kevin Miyasaki, Student Services and Activities Vice President.
Miyasaki serves as the first counselor of the Rexburg Married student 4th Stake, and has also served as a bishop.
“[Because of] the mental issues that result from [surgery] … or depression or if they’ve lost their job or had a change in their life, [the drug] becomes a source or relief and a source of separation from the issue,” he said.
Over a decade, the amount of opioids prescribed by doctors in the United States increased by 402 percent. In 1997 Americans were taking 74 milligrams per person and by 2007 the amount had increased to 369 milligrams per person.
According to Medline Plus, “Experts don’t know exactly why this type of drug abuse is increasing. The availability of drugs is probably one reason. Doctors are prescribing more drugs for more health problems than ever before. Online pharmacies make it easy to get prescription drugs without a prescription, even for youngsters.”
Lisa Milne, a senior studying early childhood special education, experienced the dangerously addictive nature of the drug Oxycontin, a medication that contains the opioid oxycodone. When Milne tore her ACL when she was 15 years old, her doctor prescribed Oxycontin along with two other painkillers.
“I took Oxycontin for three days after my surgery and I don’t remember those three days at all,” Milne said. “My mom noticed my dependency and decided to take me off of it. After that I remember everything. I remember feeling tired and wanting to take the drug.”
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), Idaho is ranked as the fourth highest state for nonmedical use of prescription pain relievers for persons age 12 and older. The survey reveals that 5.73 percent of Idahoans abuse prescription pain relievers despite Idaho’s prescription tracking program.
“We make sure to counsel with our patients, and we make sure they are taking [the medication] as prescribed,” said Shawn Andreasen, the pharmacist at the Student Health Center. “We make sure to educate them not to share their prescriptions with anyone, like a roommate.”
It is the job of those who work at the pharmacy to verify prescriptions, making sure they are legitimate, Andreasen said. He said that it is a felony to take a prescription that is not your own.
Milne said when her mother initially picked the drugs from the pharmacy the pharmacist warned her about the addictiveness of the drug.
The pharmacist also warned her to not let anyone know her daughter was taking the drug or that it was in the house, because addicts have been known to go to extreme and violent lengths to obtain it.
In addition to the risk of becoming addicted, there is a risk of death associated with prescription drugs when they are not taken as prescribed. There were more drug-related deaths in 2007 than homicides, gunshot deaths and suicides. Many of these deaths occur because of overdosing. The risk involved is often overlooked because of the
fact that the drug was prescribed by a doctor.
Miyasaki said in many of the cases he’s seen, the person doesn’t realize the seriousness of abusing these drugs because the drugs have been prescribed by a doctor.
“My mom was really observant when I was on the drugs. She prevented me from becoming addicted,” Milne said.
The avenues by which individuals obtain these drugs can be a red flag for how serious the addiction has become.
“One sign of addiction is when the individual tries to get the drug through other means. Whether it is by lying or deceit or stealing or whatever it is. You can tell then, that they have a serious problem,” Miyasaki said. “It’s usually at this point as a bishop or as an ecclesiastical leader that someone has come to me, whether it’s a family member or a husband and saying ‘I’ve got a problem, what do I do?’”
Getting professional counseling is important with prescription drug abuse.
The Counseling Center on campus helps to not only treat the addiction but also works to get to the root of the reason the student was abusing the drug in the first place, said Micah Brock, the student secretary for the Counseling Center and a senior studying psychology.
Brock also said whatever happens at the Counseling Center will not go back to the Student Honor Office. When a patient poses a threat to their own safety or the safety of others is the only time when outside resources would be involved.