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Friends, family should confront prescription abuse of a loved one
Ceres Police Chief Art deWerk

The manufacture, distribution, sales and use of illegal drugs is certainly a significant problem that generates street crimes. Illegal drugs provide criminal street gangs with money and are the cause of much of the street-level violence that is now an everyday occurrence in this region. The problems associated with illegal drug use also include serious health and safety issues, as well as lost productivity and job losses. It is the case that most people already know about the aforementioned, but at the same time, society seems to be relatively unconcerned about the abuse and illegal use of prescription drugs.

According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, the number of fatal prescription drug overdoses has been increasing for 11 years in a row. Each year, tens of thousands of people in the United States die from these kinds of drug overdoses. Prescription drug-related deaths outnumber those attributable to heroin and cocaine combined. And majority of these deaths result from persons taking a combination, or a "cocktail" of prescription drugs; not to commit suicide, which represents the smaller percentage but as an accidental overdose. Sadly, prescription drugs are all too easy to obtain legitimately with patients visiting multiple physicians to obtain their drugs of choice.

The most common prescription drugs that are implicated in accidental overdoses are codeine, oxycontin, hydrocodone and other opiate derivatives. Psychotropic drugs tend to be depressants in nature, so when combined with opiates, the results can be deadly. There is also the problem of people taking opiates and psychotropic drugs along with alcoholic beverages, which combined can have major depressive action on breathing and heart function. When people survive these kinds of overdoses, the results can include permanent brain damage and other harm to the nervous system. It is all bad.

Painkillers are easy to get. In fact, some medical doctors and dentists are quick to prescribe painkillers for some of the most minor afflictions. Many people save their prescriptions and are quick to pass a bottle of pills along to a friend who is complaining of pain. Many street-level dealers also sell painkillers along with the more typical illicit drugs like heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine, so people can get what they want quite easily one way or another.

Painkillers are the choice of affluent people and others who consider themselves to be "normal" and in mainstream society, since they do not carry the stigma of the hardcore drugs that are used by the poor and other people who do not have easy access to physicians.

The problem of prescription drug overdoses needs more media coverage and public education. At the same time, the medical community should be more restrictive with prescribing painkillers. It is well known that "doctor shopping" for painkillers is a common practice of prescription drug addicts, and absent an automated system that can detect these frauds, the problem will continue.

In my view, with the exception of motorists driving under the influence of prescription drugs, this is a healthcare issue - not one for law enforcement, which is already overwhelmed as it attempts to combat the illegal drug industry. As is always the case, family and friends usually know when someone close to them has a prescription drug problem. They need to help by getting the "patient" to understand that they have a problem and get them to seek help. These kinds of addictions and physical dependencies do not cure themselves; it takes awareness, willingness to change, counseling, support, and medical care to even have a chance at overcoming them. It is a matter of life or death.