Are Prescription Drugs Really Dangerous? The Real Danger of Prescription Drugs

Main Street in My Hometown

I live in a small town. I live in the kind of town filled with good people who like to help out their neighbors. Moving? You don’t have to worry about bribing people to help you out. Your neighbors are more than happy to help. I can walk down the street in the middle of town at 3 am and not have to worry about getting mugged. We have crime. Break and enters happen. Stuff is stolen from cars.  Fights happen at one of the two bars in town and there have even been three murders (in the thirty years I’ve lived here). All in all, it’s a great place to live, even with the occasional issues with crime. Lately though, the sleepy little town I call home has developed a big problem and that big problem is prescription drugs.

The Statistics: How Big is the Prescription Drug Problem

In the past year, six people from my town have died as the direct result of prescription medication abuse. Every single one of those deaths was an accidental overdose and four were the result of only taking slightly more than the recommended dose. Each one of those six people were under 25 years old at the time of their death – three were under the age of 18. In 2009 alone, 37, 485 people were killed be prescription drugs. While that figure is shocking on its own, it’s far more shocking when considered with the number of people killed from traffic accidents, 36, 284. That isn’t a typo. More people died from overdoses on prescription medication – mostly pain medication and anti-anxiety medication – and were killed in traffic accidents. The problem is clear. Prescription medication is dangerous and not just for young people.

Between the year 2000 and the year 2008, deaths from prescription drugs among teens and young adults more than doubled. Among older people (between 50 and 69), deaths from prescription drugs more than tripled. This is a truly frightening trend. This problem isn’t just a matter of young people being young and stupid – taking risks with things they shouldn’t be taking risks with. This is a problem that effects millions of people in every age group. It needs to be taken seriously.

Are Prescription Drugs Worse Than Illegal Drugs?

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I honestly don’t like to say one is worse than the other because it gives the impression that one or the other isn’t as bad. Heroin, cocaine, Vicodin, OxyContin – they’re all dangerous. They’ll all drugs that could kill. With that said, prescription drugs are starting to become a bigger threat than heroin and cocaine. The most abused drugs, Vicodin, Xanax, Soma and OxyContin, not cause more deaths than cocaine and heroin combined. That isn’t a rash, alarmist statement. That is what the actual statistics tell us. A recent study determined that seven of the top ten drugs used by kids in twelfth grade were prescription drugs. It isn’t hard to understand why.

For years, focus has been placed on teaching kids how dangerous illegal drugs are but that same focus has never been placed on prescription drugs. Although that is starting to change now, we still have a long way to go before prescription drugs are viewed on the same level as heroin and cocaine or even marijuana (arguably the least dangerous drug out there). That change needs to happen more quickly. We need to tell our children and our parents and our grandparents just how dangerous this stuff really is before it’s too late.

How Did the Prescription Drug Problem Get This Bad?

It’s actually pretty simple when you really stop to consider what prescription drugs actually are. These drugs were developed to help people, not hurt them. People look at prescription drugs and think that since they were prescribed by a doctor, they must be safe. After all, the vast majority of us have been taught to trust doctors. In addition to that feelings, prescription drugs are often easier to acquire than typical illegal drugs. For many kids and young adults, it just means checking out their parents’ or grandparents’ medicine cabinet. If you don’t have to buy it from a drug dealer in some shady part of town, is it really bad for you? Yes. It’s no more complicated than that.

Are Prescription Drugs Bad?

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This is part of the root problem with prescription drugs. There is no easy way to answer that question. Let’s remember cocaine and heroin were once prescribed by doctors to treat patients with all sorts of ailments. It isn’t really the drug that is the problem, whether we’re talking about heroin, cocaine, or prescription medications. It is how they are used and how use can easily turn into abuse. Cocaine and heroin are both highly addictive substances and eventually it was decided that offering these substances to patients was a bad idea. Today, more testing and research goes into developing new drugs that will be used to treat patients. In short, no, prescription drugs aren’t bad if you:

  • Only take prescription drugs that were prescribed to you
  • Take your prescription exactly as directed by your doctor
  • Are honest with your doctor about your initial symptoms
  • Have looked for other, non-drug related treatment options
  • Educate yourself about the medication you’re given as much as possible

If you don’t do at least the top two items on this list (and most often the third), you are abusing prescription drugs. No exceptions. If you and your friend are experiencing similar symptoms and your friend is prescribed some sort of medication, don’t just take their medication – even if they offer it. Go to your doctor and discuss your symptoms honestly. Don’t make things sound better or worse than they are to avoid a prescription or to procure a prescription. Your doctor needs to know about your symptoms. They’ll base your treatment on what you tell them so honesty and openness is important above all else.

The same applies to taking your prescription as it is prescribed so we’ll use the same example. Okay, you and your friend both have the same symptoms and now you both have been given the same prescription. Your friend is being told to take one pill three times a day. You, on the other hand, are being told to take two pills twice a day. Forget about what your friend is saying. Listen to your doctor. Again, your treatment is based on your symptoms. Illness can vary significantly from person to person. Your friend might appear to have the same symptoms but there might be something different the doctor picked up on. If your friend is heavier set or thinner than you, you may also be given different directions. This is all stuff your doctor will take into consideration when coming up with your proper dosage.

This next bit is for the parents out there who are trying to decide whether putting their child on medication is a good idea. I’ve seen both sides of the coin here. You know your child better than your doctor does. If you feel they would benefit from medication and your doctor agrees, it is an option you should consider. With that said, you are responsible as a parent for making sure your child is responsible with their medication. Some kids (especially teenagers) will sell their medication to friends or other kids at school. Check the bottle. If you notice it is going down more quickly than it should be, you need to have a conversation with your child. It may be nothing. They may have gotten confused about the dosage. If you can, keep the bottle locked away and give your child their medication when it’s dose time. That way you can be sure the child isn’t missing doses (kids can be pretty forgetful after all) but you can also be sure your child isn’t abusing their medication.

How Can I Keep My Kids from Abusing my Prescription?

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Do not, under any circumstances, leave your medication where your children can get it. Lock it away and make sure they can’t get at the key. Even if you’re positive your son or daughter would never dare use drugs, you must remember that many kids don’t see prescription drugs as drugs at all. Kids might look at a bottle of anti-anxiety medication and see it as a way to calm down before a big test, a sporting event or a big performance. Kids might also not necessarily understand the different between prescription pain killers and the other the counter variety you might offer them for a headache. Keep your drugs locked away. Prescription drugs aren’t just a danger to ‘bad’ kids looking to sell them or looking to get high. Prescription drugs are just a danger. Period.


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