12 Apr Understanding Arizona’s Prescription Drug Problem
Drug overdose mortality rates in Arizona rank 6th highest in the United States. The numbers are worrisome, as they indicate an extremely high overdose fatality rate per capita compared to other regions. The Grand Canyon State is also ranked 12th in the nation for prescription drug misuse in people 12 years and older, according to the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission. The crisis has become an epidemic.
The Problem with Prescriptions
When prescribed by a doctor, pain medications such as Oxycontin and Vicodin are intended to make people feel better during times of severe injury and trauma. In order to do this, most painkillers produce feelings of euphoria and wellbeing. By the time an injury is healed, it’s not uncommon for someone to be hooked on their prescription pain meds.
Additionally, since opioid pain medications are prescribed by physicians, people often consider them to be safe, which is not always the case. As pain killers are highly addictive, they are commonly misused, which can lead to a serious addiction or fatal overdose.
Some drug users combine opioid medications with other substances in order to feel a greater effect. This practice can be lethal. Prescription opioids and heroin are in the same pharmaceutical family. Of course, heroin is an illegal drug and is not prescribed for medical use. OxyContin, Codeine, and Hydrocodone are all opioids that are legally prescribed to treat extreme pain, injury, or trauma.
The idea that pain must be treated with medication is strongly pushed in American society. Doctors added pain to the list of vital signs they check on patients, which originally included only heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature. In order to better treat pain, physicians began to prescribe opioids medications.
Oftentimes users will become addicted, and when they eventually run out of their prescription they will try to get it elsewhere. In order to obtain more, addicts will buy prescription pills illegally or turn to street drugs like heroin, which is less expensive.
Other medications, such as Adderall, are being abused more than ever by people who don’t have prescriptions. Adderall is a stimulant prescribed to treat ADHD, and emergency room visits related to the drug have skyrocketed in recent years. Additionally, many people acquire ADHD stimulant medication from doctors by faking symptoms of the disorder.
Many college students use the drug to stay up all night and study for tests, with or without a prescription. Unfortunately, misuse of the medication does not stop after college, as a growing number of young adults are using it in attempt to get ahead in their careers.
Arizona has seen an increase in overdose mortality rates over the past decade, specifically with people in their twenties and the elderly, according to Pima County Prescription Drug Overdose Data. Addicts in the modern era are not always who you may expect. Typical drug addicts now include suburban moms using Percocet, Xanax, or prescription opiates just to get through the day. A prescription drug addiction can happen to anyone.
In recent years, physicians have been encouraged to use caution when prescribing potentially addictive medications and avoid over-prescribing drugs to patients who may be able to manage their trauma without them. Unfortunately, doctors can be accused of undertreating pain as well, which often puts them in a moral dilemma.
The Problem with Addiction
While Arizona administers the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, 8 out of 10 people in the state have had a prescription pain medication at some point. This is an extremely concerning statistic, as opiate overdoses are currently the leading cause of death in Arizona.
Prescription pill abuse has increased at an alarming rate over the past 20 years on a national level. According to the Centers for Disease Control, drug overdose fatalities outnumbered deadly car crashes and shootings in 2016.
The United States represents only 5 percent of the world’s population and consumes 80 percent of the prescription drugs. When people become hooked on prescription medications, they typically don’t consider themselves to be an addict since the drugs came from a doctor. Additionally, some addicts may not realize how dangerous prescription drug use can be because during the early stages, they consider themselves to be functional in their day to day life. These are dangerous misconceptions, as prescription meds can lead to destructive addictions, illegal drug abuse, or even death. Unfortunately, many patients don’t realize they have a problem until they run out of medication and their doctor will no longer prescribe them pills.
People are first exposed to opiates in an emergency room setting. Athletes who suffer from broken bones or people who get in serious car accidents are immediately treated for pain and are usually unaware that they are consuming highly addictive and potentially lethal substances. When addicts run out of pills and aren’t able to feed their habit by refilling a prescription, they often turn to heroin.
Overdose: The Biggest Problem
Despite efforts to slow the increase of prescription drug abuse, the number of emergency room visits from narcotic pill overdoses have continued to rise across Arizona. Overdoses of Oxycodone and Hydrocodone were second only to alcohol as the cause of poisoning deaths in Arizona, although it’s not uncommon for overdoses to happen after consumption of a combination of substances.
Data from the Arizona Department of Health Services shows that over 1,000 people went to the emergency room for treatment of prescription drug overdoses in 2015, which was more than double the number from the previous year.
Arizona is one of several states in the U.S. that saw its rate of fatal overdoses rise significantly over the past decade. The increase in drug overdose deaths is largely related to an increase in prescription opioid misuse.
The CDC blames the heightened death toll from opioid overdoses on two main factors: the rise in opioid prescriptions and the low cost and high availability of heroin over the past decade.
How Arizona Is Attempting To Fix The Problem
Seventy percent of college students in Arizona say they can get their hands on pain and ADHD medications without a prescription. Because misuse and addiction can begin with shared or stolen prescriptions, law enforcement officials are urging people to dispose of prescription drugs as soon as they discontinue use. Rise of prescription drug abuse is a very complex crisis and addressing it at the state level can be difficult.
Arizona adopted a Prescription Drug Monitoring Program in 2007 in an attempt to promote public health by collecting data on abuse and misuse of controlled prescription medications under the Arizona Uniform Controlled Substances Act. The program monitors Schedule II through Schedule IV substances.
Arizona law requires all prescribing doctors and any licensed Drug Enforcement Administration agent to register for the monitoring program. However, they are not required by law to use the system, and unfortunately, less than 25 percent of physicians in the state use the database. However, Arizona legislators are trying to pass a bill that would legally require doctors to use the program.
The Arizona Prescription Drug Misuse and Abuse Initiative began in 2012 in an attempt to decrease prescription drug abuse. The organization coordinates with medical workers, law enforcement, and addiction prevention groups. Its initiative focuses on reducing illegal acquisition of prescription drugs, educating prescribing physicians and pharmacists on responsible practices, improving drug policies within law enforcement, increasing public awareness about the risks of misuse of medication, and to encourage resilience in children and adults.
Programs that aim to combat Arizona’s prescription drug problem try to focus on the root of the issue. Most overdoses on prescription drugs are accidental. In many cases, addicts will begin to take more and more of a drug as their tolerance builds, and end up consuming a lethal amount. Many people who die from a drug overdose on pain medication were taking a much larger dose than what was initially prescribed to them in an attempt to feel the same effect.
Opioid painkillers can be prescribed to children as young as 12 years of age. Without proper knowledge of the danger of these drugs and their addictive qualities, children and teenagers are extremely susceptible to developing an addiction to prescription drugs.
Fully Understanding the Problem
According to a report by Trust for America’s Health, Arizona was one of nine states with the fewest comprehensive strategies to cut down on prescription drug abuse. According to the CDC, sales of prescription painkillers have quadrupled since 1999 along with the number of overdose fatalities. Recent data also shows a prominent a spike in Xanax, which an estimated 40 million Americans have a prescription to.
There are millions of people who suffer from chronic pain and truly need prescription drugs in order to function. Prescription drugs can be a miracle for many, but misuse can have dire consequences. The rapid rise of abuse requires a full-scale response, which would include preventative education and modernizing the treatment of pain.
Doctors should certainly act conservatively when prescribing medications that are potentially addictive, but patients should practice caution as well. It’s important to never share medications with other people and consider alternative pain-management techniques such as yoga, meditation, or exercise.
Most addictions to illegal drugs begin with the use of legal prescription medications, so it’s important for medical professionals as well as their patients to be extremely cautious. Controlled medications are often easy to obtain even for a person without a prescription and are often incorrectly perceived as safer than street drugs
It can be tough to pin down exactly why Arizona has a growing prescription drug problem ranked worse than most states, but one thing is for sure: where prescriptions are more common, abuse tends to be more prevalent.