A recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine reported that nearly 60 percent of Americans have opioid painkillers that they no longer use. Within this group, 20 percent of participants stated they shared their opioid painkillers with another person.
Those who shared their medication reported that the primary reason for doing so was to help the other person manage their pain. The second most reported reason was because the person asking for the medication did not have the money to pay for the medication or did not have health insurance.
Possession of opioids by people other than the patients to whom they were prescribed is a growing problem, because misusing prescription medication is both physically harmful and illegal.
Because prescription medication is widely used for the treatment of an array of illnesses and disorders, many Americans do not see a problem with sharing their prescription medication to help their friends and family. In an article in the Washington Post, Johns-Hopkins professor Colleen L. Barry calls for a change of public opinion, stating that it is crucial that officials send “a clear-cut public health message that these medications should never be shared in any circumstance.”
The amount of prescription drug abuse is on the rise, especially among adolescents. In a study published by University of Central Florida professor Jason A. Ford, Ph.D., 22 percent of high school students reported nonmedical use of prescription drugs at some point in their lifetime, with 15 percent reporting nonmedical prescription drug abuse within the last year.
Researchers at National Health Promotion Associates are working to develop a Middle School Prescription Drug Abuse program. The program, based on their LifeSkills Training program, aims to prevent drug use by teaching adolescents to use personal self-management skills, social competency skills, and drug refusal skills. Developers of the program hope to see reductions in abuse by raising awareness at an early age of the potential harm that can come from sharing prescription drugs and providing the tools needed to increase resilience and stimulate personal growth.
The Food and Drug Administration lists proper disposal techniques as one way of preventing nonmedical prescription drug abuse. To dispose of unused prescription drugs, drop them off at an authorized collector in your community. You can find authorized collectors in your community by calling your local law-enforcement agency or doing an Internet search to locate prescription drug take-back programs.
Sources: DrugFree.org, The Washington Post, Jama Internal Medicine, The Prevention Researcher
Writer: Brooke Dugan is a rising senior majoring in Psychology and Communication at Loyola University Maryland.