Read This Before You Fill Your Prescription

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— A Special Report from Victor Marchione, MD

Pain is difficult to live with and can be very disruptive to our quality of life. Pain relievers have a potentially important role to play, then, when it comes to the initial treatment of a medical problem. But underneath this medical benefit, a disturbing trend is growing: the misuse of these prescription painkillers for non-medicinal reasons. Researchers at the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), which, along with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),have compiled a report with alarming statistics. Between 2004 and 2008, the abuse of opioid medications increased more than 111% overall, and a whopping 29% during 2007-2008 alone. The SAMHSA calls this a significant public health concern.

The researchers say that there has been a huge spike in the number of people making emergency room visits because of prescription drug misuse. Much of this problem is the result of the increased availability of these medications, the research team explains. Young kids are taking these drugs from their parents’ medicine cabinets. People who have the drugs left over from medical treatment are finding that they are making their way into non-medical use. Many are also getting their hands on unused prescriptions to sell in the underground market for considerable profit.

If you or someone you know takes prescription painkillers, you may need to think about how to appropriately use the medication and, if you have leftover medication, how to get rid of it safely. Some of these drugs are powerful and can cause significant health risks in the wrong hands.

One more issue to be aware of: each year in the United States, more than 71,000 children aged 18 and younger are seen in emergency rooms for unintentional overdoses of prescription and over-the-counter drugs, according to the report.

The research team would like to see more attention directed to the hazards of prescription and over-the-counter drugs. Discuss the proper use of these painkillers with your doctor. Ask your pharmacist to tell you how to dispose of the unused portion of a prescription.

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