Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The War on Drugs… Wage It on Your Medicine Cabinet, Not Afghani Poppy Growers

Today is Bloggers Unite Against Abuse Day. And to celebrate, I get to soap-box about one of my favorite topics – Prescription Drug Abuse.

Perfect. Because abuse of little white pills and purple capsules is what I spend a good chunk of my time researching in my day job. And at night, when I should be cleaning the toilets or the fridge, instead I’m trying to get the characters in my novel BRIGHTER THAN BRIGHT from not indulging in tiny orange orbs. Yeppers, I’ll admit prescription drug abuse is a passion of mine, right up there with psychosis, depression, and mania.

So here’s the facts, ma’am, followed by some fiction…

When most people think of drug abuse, they think -- Smack. Crank. Blow. Red Mercedes. Ice. Of belts wrapped tight around upper arms, of sucking lines off a foil-lined tray. Considerably more dangerous than what’s hanging out in those amber-colored plastic vials in your bathroom cabinet. Right?

Not so. Although the use of most drugs, including marijuana, heroin, and cocaine, have stabilized or even fallen in recent years, the abuse of drugs available by prescription has increased. Especially in young people, even though growth is substantial among boomers and seniors. Indeed, more kids aged 12 to 17 abuse prescription drugs than all the ‘hard’ street drugs (cocaine/crack, heroin, inhalants, hallucinogens) combined. It’s mostly white kids, although Hispanic youth are increasingly turning to medications to get high, and those who indulge in other substances, especially alcohol and tobacco. What do kids use? Mostly opioid analgesics (e.g., OxyContin, Vicodin), tranquilizers (e.g., Ativan, Halcion, valium), and stimulants (e.g., Ritalin, Strattera).

But prescription drug abuse is not just a problem of youth. More and more older adults – especially women – are falling victim to the ravages of little white pills prescribed by their doctors. Misuse is often unintentional, occurring after excessive medical exposure. And pills are easy to get: docs are willing prescribers, we tend to hoard unused meds (‘fess up – bet you have some leftover Demerol in your medicine chest), friends and family are willing to share, and on college campuses and high schools (and even middle and elementary schools), there is a tremendous grey market for prescription medications.

And why not? Unlike cocaine, heroin, and crystal meth, you KNOW what’s in your OxyContin tablet. You get the same, dependable high with no fear of contaminants screwing up your lungs, your bloodstream, or your brain. After all, the Food and Drug Administration has approved these medications as ‘safe and effective’.

What can you do to stop prescription drug abuse?

1/ Get informed. Go to the experts: National Institute on Drug Abuse, The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and Join Together. Or contact Me - I research this stuff for a living.

2/ Ask your docs to give you the smallest amount of pain medications or other potentially addicting medications. This keeps excess medication off the street.

3/ Talk to your kids. If you’re a kid, talk to your friends. Tell them just because the FDA approves them, they’re dangerous.

4/ Most important - Talk to your pharmacist when you receive prescriptions for analgesics, tranquilizers, stimulants for ADHD or narcolepsy, sedatives for sleep. Ask her how to SAFELY use your medication.

5/ Lock up your medications. You’d be amazed what your housekeeper, realtor, friends, and children will steal.


Here’s the fiction… Ben at a pharming party...

I push myself back up the wall, wait my turn. The door opens, the hip-hoppers high-five their way down the hall and I stumble in. The small room reeks, yellow urine puddles by the john. Streamers of toilet paper and clods of crap circle slowly in the bowl. I do my thing, then cling to the sink as white and grey dots skitter across my closed eyelids. A hot, heavy fullness bubbles up my throat; I swallow it down, blast the faucet and splash myself with water. There’s no towel, water streams down my neck. Bloodshot eyes stare back from the glittering glass, the green of iris obscured by vacant, opaque cisterns. An urge to vomit up all the chemicals I’ve ingested strikes me, then passes. What the fuck am I doing? I shake my head, but nothing changes; the stranger gazes back at me. Someone bangs on the door, so I turn from the sink, stagger to the ballroom.

Be safe. Use your meds as prescribed. Peace, Linda


  1. K, I am fessing up. I am wary of prescription drugs, but if I ever wanted to go on an opiate trip, well, I'll just say I'm well stocked for a bit. All legally obtained of course.

    I do know some older women (had a friend in her 80s, for example) who've gotten hooked on these pain pills. Mostly b/c they're in a lot of pain. I guess after awhile the line blurs between pain management and addiction.

    I hurt my back a few months ago and the doc gave me Vicodin. Well I only took half tablets, for a few nights (and I will say, ummmm, the high was really nice, sorry, just being honest here), but on taking it I got so constipated I couldn't go number 2 for DAYS. Sooooo I stopped taking it.

    But I still have the pills.

    I also want to say I get wary of other drugs too, not just the opiates. I mean, a lot of times when I get prescribed a drug, I like to look it up and check into it, but sometimes all that does is make me feel worse about taking it!

  2. "Yeppers, I’ll admit prescription drug abuse is a passion of mine, right up there with psychosis, depression, and mania." This would be a jaw dropping epitaph.

    In all sincerity, you have an excellent point. Your conclusion to the post depicting a character's scene in the bathroom had me mentally digressing into the world of William Burrough’s Naked Lunch? Ever read it? The entire thing is a drug trip, and not in the comparably pleasant Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas kind of way. Yes, I know, more beatnik references.

  3. Chrys, yep, this is how mos people get their Rx drug highs: leftovers. Sure beats mom's meatloaf.

    Sarah, to clarify - these are my research and writing passions, not personal. Love NAKED LUNCH, read many years ago and will revisit, along with my ever-growing beatnik library, thanks to you. I do believe some people were born in the wrong era; you, my dear, should've been on Kesey's bus.

  4. Chrys raises a great point, though. The high, being really nice. I'm not one for drinking to excess. I've certainly never tried illegal drugs. But when I fell and hurt myself, the doctors were generous with the painkillers and muscle relaxants. And man. They were nice. I scared myself, liking them so much, and threw them all away after only a week. But I have to say,those who deal with chronic pain, I don't know how they DON'T become addicted. One thing it convinced me of--this is a far more complex topic than most give it credit for.

  5. Kelley, Yes, the euphoria experienced with opioids is exceptional; hence, their attraction. Most individuals with chronic pain, however, rarely become 'addicted' due to the appropriate saturation of drug uptake by their opioid receptors. They simply do not get that same high. Chronic pain sufferers, however, DO become dependent, both physiologically and, at times, psychically. But then, diabetics also are 'dependent' on their medications, as are asthmatics on theirs.

    The question is: What is the balance between appropriate medical use and abuse? It's a question that's fascinated me for the past 15 years, one that much of my research has tried to address.

  6. That's how I felt too, Kelley, the high was REALLY nice. I'm not huge on drinking either, and I have done illegal drugs (pot, which is also a nice high and a nice painkiller, in a really different way), but the Vicodin high was somehow different, dreamier, like floating, detaching somehow and wandering.

    It's funny though, my older friend who took oxycodone (is that the same as percoset, btw? or are they different?) for arthritis pain, never seemed to get very high from it (or just didn't talk about that). She was taking a lot and it was probably part addiction and part pain management. She kept insisting she wasn't addicted, which is a little scary, because isn't that what addicted people say?

    Funny this topic comes up because for the last few weeks, I have been watching old episodes of House, and he totally exemplifies this topic!