A Beginner’s Guide to the Rx Drug Abuse Epidemic in America
Part 5: What Can We Do?
As we’ve looked at all the dangerous physical and psychological effects that occur because of prescription drug abuse, we also need to look at the things we can do every day to prevent ourselves and our loved ones from falling into addiction. Prescription drug abuse is a problem, but it’s a problem that we are more than capable of solving.
Putting the issue in the public eye is a quick way to spread the word about this disease. In a 2012 article1 from the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Matthew B. Stanbrook, MD, PhD, the deputy editor of the Journal, says, “Increasing political and scientific interest in how best to deal with addiction will likely continue to fuel broad public discussion.”
Education About Prescription Drug Misuse
Education about prescription drug use is one way to curb this problem. Not many people realize the risks associated with the misuse of prescription drugs. That false sense of safety related to taking something prescribed by a doctor continues to perpetuate the overuse and misuse of unneeded pills. People not necessarily looking for a high can accidentally overdose on a prescription because they didn’t understand how to properly take their dosage. This education2 process can include the education of providers and prescribers, who can pass on the knowledge of how to understand misuse, proper storage and disposal of meds, as well as how to recognize signs of addiction and abuse.
Finding the Right Treatment Program
Finding the right treatment program for each individual struggling with addiction is also imperative to bring healing. As discussed earlier, many people dealing with a substance use disorder also have a co-occurring mental illness. To thoroughly treat these individuals, effective programs should treat both the physical and emotional sides of the issue. Studies have also shown that individuals with these co-occurring disorders3 have better recovery rates when both psychiatric and substance abuse treatments were delivered.
Treatment programs offer a far better option than a life-long struggle, even though they may seem expensive when considered. Research done on the long-term effects3 of co-occurring disorders has shown higher risk of suicide, psychiatric hospitalization, legal difficulties and other issues like incarceration, homelessness, disease and abuse. Finding a treatment program that fits the individual’s specific needs can help him or her to avoid years and years of an unnecessary struggle.
Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention
Another path to curbing prescription drug abuse is through early prevention. Prevention approaches, such as addressing why abuse starts, could help end addiction before it begins. Instead of focusing on the old “just say no” campaigns with our children, emphasizing that drug use is an unhealthy coping mechanism4 —and teaching them how to cope in healthy ways—could prevent much abuse.
Prevention can also come with knowing the signs of addiction and mental health issues. Being able to spot these signs early on can mean getting your loved one help before the problem goes too far.
According to helpguide.org,5 factors to keep in mind can include:
- Family history
- Sensitivity to alcohol or drugs
- Common signs of addiction, like blackouts, relational problems, weight and sleep changes, etc.
Anyone who sees these signs in someone they love should act immediately. While it’s almost certain you will come up against resistance, it is worth it to try. Seeking help for a loved one can be painful, so make sure you’re getting support for yourself as well.
Changing Perceptions of Prescription Drug Abuse
But of course, before any of this can fully take root, we must change our own perceptions of prescription drug abuse and mental illness.
“Health professionals are uniquely qualified to inform and influence this discussion,” says Dr. Stanbrook in the 2012 article1 from the Canadian Medical Association Journal.“But to do so coherently, let alone effectively, we must first change our own latent discriminatory attitudes.”
As long as we associate these issues with strong negative connotations, we’re keeping people in fear and shame.
David Sheff, author of Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America’s Greatest Tragedy, believes this stigma often is why addiction treatments fail. In a 2013 PBS NewsHour report,4 he says that “correcting common misconceptions about the disease can be the first step toward improving social support and medical treatment systems for those struggling with their addiction.” This switch of perception can make all the difference.
“We’ve failed at solving America’s drug problem not because it’s impossible to do so, but we’ve been focusing on the wrong things,” says Sheff in the report.4“The main problem is that we’ve treated drug use as a criminal problem and drug users as morally bankrupt… Addiction is a disease and must be treated like we treat other diseases.”
Dr. Stanbrook says the same in his article.1“If we are to succeed in treating addiction as a disease,” he states, “we need to acknowledge and overcome our negative attitudes so that we can help patients with addiction and guide how the public perceives them.” Talking openly and honestly is also a simple way to break down our society’s stigma surrounding addiction. Reluctance to talk about personal experience with addiction perpetuates the shame that is often associated with the disease. The more that people who have overcome addiction speak out, the better our chances are of keeping addiction in check.
Speaking up gives the hope of recovery and a welcoming community to those currently struggling. They realize that they aren’t alone in the fight. Groups like Heroes in Recovery6 are helping to connect this community of recovering addicts across the country.
Watch Video: How Do Community Support Organizations Help the Cause of Recovery?
Heroes in Recovery’s mission is “to eliminate the social stigma that keeps individuals with addiction and mental health issues from seeking help, to share stories of recovery for the purpose of encouragement and inspiration, and to create an engaged sober community that empowers people to get involved, give back, and live healthy, active lives.”
As more and more groups like this help to take away the shame of facing addiction, more people struggling with these issues will feel safe to finally come clean.
This is part 5 of 5. Click below to read all parts in the series.
You May Want to Know:
 “Addiction is a disease: We must change our attitudes toward addicts.” Matthew B. Stanbrook, MD, PhD. Canadian Medical Association Journal. CMAJ February 7, 2012 vol. 184 no. 2. First published December 12, 2011, doi: 10.1503/cmaj.111957. CMAJ.ca. http://www.cmaj.ca/content/184/2/155
 “Prescription Drug Abuse: Strategies to Stop the Epidemic.” Trust for America’s Health. HealthyAmericans.org. Posted October 2013.
 “Medication Assisted Treatment for Opioid Addiction in Opioid Treatment Programs.” Chapter 12: Treatment of Co-occurring Disorders. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 43. Center for Substance Abuse Treatment.
Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US);
2005. NCBI.NLM.NIH.gov. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64163/.
 “Why We Should Treat, Not Blame, Addicts Struggling to Get Clean.” Ellen Rolfes. Posted April 5, 2013. PBS NewsHour. PBS.org.
 “Substance Abuse and Mental Health.” Joanna Saisan, M.S.W., Melinda Smith, M.A., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. Last updated: February 2014. Helpguide.org.
 Heroes In Recovery http://www.heroesinrecovery.com