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The prescription drug epidemic

The use of prescription drugs has changed the face of healthcare in our country. For many, the correct use of prescription drugs means that they are free to live their life to the fullest. Unfortunately for some, the prescription drug 'road' is rockier and can lead to a harmful addiction.

The number of people that are addicted to 'legal medication' is increasing and may even take over the number of those struggling with addiction to traditionally abused illegal drugs, such as heroin.

In 2013 alone, we saw more deaths as a result of prescription drug overdoses than cocaine or heroin overdoses. In a recent study by the NHS on the prevalence of legal high use in children (aged 11 - 15 years), it was found that 5% of 15 year olds had taken legal highs - with use increasing with age (Statistics of drug misuse, England 2017).

Lead Addiction Consultant at The Priory Hospital Woking, Dr Michael Bristow has previously described the rise of prescription drug abuse as "the silent epidemic". This is because the issues caused transcend demographic groups – they can impact anyone, including young members of our society.

He described several factors driving the problem which include:

  • Promotion of the pleasurable aspects of taking drugs
  • Increase of psychotropic drug use
  • Increase in using pharmaceutical drugs because of their purity and ease of access
  • Rise of the online pharmacy

"Broadly speaking, prescription drug abusers fit into two main categories defining the reason behind their use," Dr Bristow explained.

"One of these groups become dependent on drugs originally prescribed for a medical reason and start abusing their medication. The other group are people who misuse prescription drugs as another facet of a tendency to misuse drugs in general."

Commonly misused prescription drugs include morphine, OxyContin and Fentanyl (which are all prescription opiates); as well as Valium and Xanax (both benzodiazepines).

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