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Prescription drug abuse is an epidemic in Washington state. There are more deaths annually from prescription drug abuse than from meth, cocaine, and heroin combined.
What’s causing this epidemic? Drugs like OxyContin, Vicodin, and Methadone are now commonly prescribed for pain. Painkillers offer relief to millions of Americans but present a hidden danger.
These kinds of prescription drugs are called “opiates.” The American Heritage Dictionary defines “opiate” as a sedative narcotic, “[C]ontaining opium or one or more of its natural or synthetic derivatives.” In a way, these drugs are the cousins of a better known—and more feared— drug: heroin. But unlike heroin, most people don’t know how potentially addicting and dangerous prescription opiates can be.
Some recreational users crush prescription painkillers and then ingest them in order to bypass the time-release function of the medications. This provides a somewhat immediate, and sometimes deadly, high.
When overdosed, prescription painkillers can cause a significant decrease in lung function and death. They can also be lethal when they’re combined with other prescribed or over-the-counter drugs. High-profile deaths include actor Heath Ledger, who died from a lethal combination of oxycodone, hydrocodone, diazepam, temazepam, alprazolam and doxylamine.
Teenagers are increasingly experimenting with drugs commonly found in their parents’ medicine cabinets. According to the Healthy Youth Survey, 12 percent of 12th graders used prescription pain medications to get high in the past 30 days. The same survey also shows that an alarming number of younger kids experiment with these drugs. That's why it's critical to learn how to properly safeguard and dispose of your medications.
The Office of National Drug Control Policy reports that more than 47 percent of teens get prescription drugs from their friends for free. About 10 percent buy them from their friends, and another 10 percent take them from friends without asking.
The Attorney General's Office uses funds from consumer protection settlements with drug manufacturers—including the makers of OxyContin— to provide grants to promote drug abuse prevention and prescription drug safety. To date those grants have totaled more than $2.7 million and include:
- $1,000,000 dollars to fund the Washington Prevention Summits and Spring Youth Forums, where kids learn to use the latest technology to create prevention programs in their schools.
- $683,000 to the State Department of Health to create a prescription drug monitoring program to prevent the “doctor shopping” that allows addicts to get access to dangerous drugs.
- $400,000 for the University of Washington to educate doctors on drug marketing. The funding is a portion of the $9 million awarded in grants nationwide from a settlement with Neurontin.
- $30,000 to The Pacific Northwest Pollution Prevention Resource Network to develop the Unwanted Medicine Return Program. This program promotes drug safety and a cleaner enviornment by promoting the safe disposal of unwanted medications.
- $15,000 for Prescriptions for Life, a local nonprofit organization working to eliminate prescription drug abuse. The money will help pay for a new educational video that will be shown to students, teachers, school counselors, law enforcement, medical professionals and civic and business leaders.
- $400,000 for the Washington Health Foundation launch a program to reduce prescription and over-the-counter drug abuse among college students, creating one of the first programs in the nation to target young adults between the ages of 18 to 24 (more below).
According to DOH, American Indians and Alaska Natives are hardest-hit by prescription drug abuse.
The AGO has addressed this issue by targeting a series of grants for programs that address substance abuse prevention programs in tribal communities:
- $101,700 for the Boys & Girls Club of America to establish two new clubhouses on Native American lands by 2011, targeting ages 7-18. The two anticipated newly established clubs on reservation lands should see an enrollment per club in excess of 700 youth. Boys & Girls Club substance abuse programs include SMART (Skills, Mastery And Resistance Training) Moves.
- $198,550 to the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board to provide four “mini-grants” of $30,000 each to tribal partners for community based projects to fight prescription drug abuse, and to fund a one-day regional training conference on prescription abuse among tribal members.
- $25,250 to Evergreen Council on Problem Gambling to help pay for a 6-day youth camp called New Directions: Tribal Youth Music Academy for Addiction Awareness & Prevention.
The Attorney General's Office has partnered with the Washington Health Foundation, the Pharmaceutical Research Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) and other national organizations to provide an online health community and a set of resources to help college kids confront the prescription drug epidemic.
The Washington Health Foundation asks college students to be part a part of the solution – to help address prescription and over-the-counter drug misuse and abuse. Learn more on The Washington Health Foundation’s Web site. There, you can tell your story, share your ideas, explore innovative resources, and participate in social media discussions.