Despite efforts to prevent the abuse of prescription medications, drug use is still considered an epidemic by many. Recent actions against prescription drug abuse include the proposal of a bill by Senator Bob Casey in Pennsylvania that would create a statewide database of patients who use prescription drugs, to help track those who might become drug abusers.
Although the rate of people ages 12 and older who first used prescription drugs for non-medical purposes has stayed fairly consistent, the numbers are still staggering.
According to a 2012 survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) almost 2.4 million people ages 12 and older used prescription drugs for non-medical purposes for the first time in the past year.
Researchers at George Washington University also found that the number of opioid prescriptions given in the emergency room have increased drastically from 2001 to 2010, even though “pain-related complaints” have not gone up at the same rate.
Opioid analgesics were prescribed during 20.8 percent of emergency room visits in 2001, and increased up to 31 percent in 2010.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated last year in a report that there has been a steady increase in overall drug overdose deaths, and deaths involving opioid overdoses have increased as well. In fact, 15,597 people died in the United States from opioid overdose in 2009, and that increased to 16,651 in 2010.
Yet despite all of these problematic findings, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continues to approve new prescription drugs, specifically opioids. They approved both Zohydro and Xartemis XR within the last year, both opioids without abuse-deterrent formulas.
With this in mind, one treatment center for addiction is trying to find out what is contributing to the ongoing problem of prescription drug abuse.
Caron Treatment Centers released a survey recently with some insight into what is driving some women to abuse prescription drugs and get treatment.
The survey found that among the 102 previous female patients treated at Caron, the main legal reasons for initiating treatment were prescription drug and alcohol abuse. And 55 percent of the women who were addicted to illegal drugs happened to be using heroin.
These women’s relationship with prescription drugs started out innocently enough -- 70 percent stated they were initially given a legal prescription for a physical or emotional problem.
However, for a majority of women, mental health issues became a major factor in how they began to struggle with addiction. Most women stated that depression, anxiety and a “critical internal voice” helped push them into addiction. Their top stressors were family and romantic relationships as well as work.
Some of the more surprising survey results are related to the characteristics of women who sought treatment for addiction. The results show that 65 percent of women were ages 36 to 55, and 61 percent of the former patients had a household income of at least $100,000. More than half of these women also have children.
Despite these women suffering from addiction, they still felt the need to act like “superwomen.” In fact, half of the women still took care of their children, 40 percent volunteered for the PTA, 61 percent still had a job while addicted, and 74 percent still made sure they looked presentable.
Erin Goodhart, a clinical supervisor of the Primary Care Women's Unit at Caron Treatment Centers, said in an email that 50 percent of the women in the survey abused prescription painkillers, while 75 percent abused alcohol.
She said that many women start out taking medication as prescribed, but eventually they become dependent on it to manage conditions like anxiety, chronic pain and insomnia. Oftentimes people struggling with addiction also have issues with self-regulation and self-esteem.
“Women progress more quickly in their disease of addiction than men do before the need for treatment is recognized,” she said. “When a woman suffers from the disease of addiction there is a lot of shame associated with her chemical use. As a result, women work very hard to keep up a good front that ‘everything is OK’ and they ‘have it all together.’”
Roseann Rook, a clinical addictions specialist at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center, said in an email that she’s not surprised by the results of the survey, including the part where many women still keep up appearances during their addiction.
“Part of the reason is that these women are overachievers and super moms,” Rook said. “At the start of the addiction, their use is a positive contributing factor because with the stress reduced by alcohol or drugs, they are more productive.”
So what is the outlook for this epidemic of abuse?
Rook believes that with the potential tracking of prescription drug use in the future, there will be a decrease in prescription drug abuse and an increase in heroin abuse. However, the continual release of new prescription drugs could add more risks for abuse as well.
Caron Treatment Centers. Women Who Sought Treatment for Drug Addiction at Caron Treatment Centers Cite Prescription Medication and Heroin as Leading Drugs of Choice, New Survey Reports. Web. March 18, 2014.
Drugs.com. FDA Approves Xartemis XR. Web. March 18, 2014.
Weaver, Rheyanne. FDA Approves Opioid Zohydro Without Abuse-Deterrent Formula. Web. March 18, 2014.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Opioids drive continued increase in drug overdose deaths. Web. March 18, 2014.
George Washington University. Researchers Find Significant Increase in Painkillers Prescribed to U.S. Adults Visiting Emergency Departments. Web. March 18, 2014.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Results from the 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings. Web. March 18, 2014.
http://www.samhsa.gov/data/NSDUH/2012SummNatFindDetTables/NationalFindings/NSDUHresults2012.htm#ch5.8 (Section 5, psychotherapeutics)
WNEP. Lange, Stacy. Bill Pushed to Stop Prescription Abusers. Web. March 18, 2014.
Rook, Roseann. Email interview. March 17, 2014.
Goodhart, Erin. Email interview. March 17, 2014.
Reviewed March 20, 2014
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith