The Prescription Pill Problem
The use of prescription medication has become commonplace. Just in the last 15 years, diagnoses of disorders such as Attention Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) have increased substantially, and with it so has the availability of prescription medication in most homes. While there is an ongoing debate over the necessity of medicating all cases of disorders like ADHD, another discussion has surfaced regarding the prevalence of prescribed drugs and the risk of abuse among those who use it.
This is especially common among students and other young people who resort to using caffeine and prescription drugs to pull all-nighters instead of developing key time-management skills. While it’s clear that there’s been a shift in acceptance of prescription drug use, it calls into question whether or not this same acceptance has spread and is now applicable to other drugs and illicit substances.
Prescription Drugs: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing?
While we are inundated with commercials warning of the dangers of tobacco, marijuana and alcohol, there is little discussion regarding the dangers of prescription drug use. Instead, we are dulled to the dangers of overmedicating young adults, the implications it may have on their futures and the role it may play in creating a generation of addicts. Commercials depict prescription medication as a cure for sadness and loneliness, failing to mention the increase in emergency room visits and drug overdoses they have also caused.
There is little discussion around the effects of specific prescription medication and how it can easily lead to abuse and addiction over time. Since these drugs are prescribed by doctors, many falsely believe they are safe and don’t realize that, legal or not, these medications still have a high potential for abuse; opioids and amphetamines are commonly prescribed by doctors and are highly addictive.
It is a dangerous error for society to link its perception of a drug’s legal status with the perils of its use. The link between legality and perceived danger creates a space for people to become negligent in considering the negative consequences associated with prescription drug abuse, excessive alcohol consumption, tobacco use, and now, marijuana use. As the legal status of drugs begins to change in the United States, it could be seen that it is further lulling young adults into a false sense of security as to the potential consequences of substance abuse.
Approximately 23 states have already legalized medical marijuana and four states have legalized recreational use, and with this the awareness of the consequences associated with use may diminish. Much like with prescription medication, the ease of accessibility and prevalence of use will gradually change the way in which young adults understand the risks associated with marijuana use.
While the current social acceptance of prescription medication may not influence the use of other illicit substances directly, addiction to prescription medication opens the door to illicit substance abuse; as a person’s tolerance builds, they may seek stronger thrills elsewhere. Illicit drug users have a similar experience: they do not begin by using cocaine and heroin; instead, their addiction develops over time as tolerance increases and more potent substances are sought to achieve the same effects.
Just as marijuana has been described as a “gateway drug”, prescription medication has quickly become a legal, socially accepted gateway drug in disguise. Adolescents are almost overexposed to the dangers of cocaine and heroin, while practically nothing is said about the dangerous drugs found in many of their own medicine cabinets.