Seeing the big picture of painkiller addiction starts with seeing that brown plastic bottle in your medicine cabinet. Has it stayed there long after you needed it? Is someone else dipping into it? You can say ‘no’ to that this weekend by getting rid of unused prescription drugs. Two recent studies show why it’s a good idea.
Researchers at Columbia University compared the locations of accidental painkiller overdose deaths with those of heroin deaths and other accidental deaths (e.g., drowning) in New York City over a six-year period. No one was surprised that the heroin overdose deaths were concentrated in low-income, high-crime areas. Slightly more surprising were the locations of painkiller deaths–throughout the city in working-class neighborhoods. The researchers theorized that people in those areas might be more likely to sustain workplace injuries like back pain. They received painkiller prescriptions, which may have led to overdosing on them. Or worse, just having the painkillers around made them available for others in their families or homes to abuse.
National studies bear out the availability theory. The most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that 54 percent of people who used painkillers nonmedically got them from just one friend, and of those friends, 80 percent had a legitimate painkiller prescription.
It doesn’t take much for painkiller prescription use to turn serious—either as an overdose or a crippling addiction. Even keeping an unused prescription around can be too tempting for some people. They know it’s there, they use it when they don’t really need or to take the edge off. That’s the start down a slippery slope.
The Drug Enforcement Administration and your local law enforcement agencies can help one part of that equation. Saturday, October 26, is the next Prescription Drug Takeback Day. Local agencies throughout the country will accept unused and outdated prescriptions for safe disposal. Just throwing out pills or flushing them down the toilet is not safe for anyone—people or animals. Check the DEA website for a location near you to dispose of your drugs safely. If you’re not taking the prescription, don’t leave it lying around.
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