Illegal Use of Prescription Pills is a Growing Problem throughout New Jersey

pills.pngLast month’s National Prescription Take Back Day resulted in almost 15,000 pounds of expired prescription drugs being dropped off at collection sites throughout New Jersey alone. This was the seventh annual Take Back event sponsored by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in an effort to combat a growing problem of prescription drug abuse in New Jersey and throughout the country.(1)

A recent news story on radio station NJ 101.5 called the problem a “growing epidemic” and went on to explain that abuse of prescription medication was second only to the abuse of marijuana. Underlining the seriousness of this addiction, statistics show that more than 17,000 people in the U.S. die each year from prescription drugs.(2)

Studies have shown that unlike illegal drugs, 70% of prescription drugs used illegally come straight from the medicine cabinets of friends and family; only 5% are bought off the internet or purchased from dealers. Young people have even made a game of using these drugs called ‘pharming.’ This is where teens take pills from medicine cabinets in their own homes then go to a party where all the pills are collected in one container. The party-goers then randomly select and ingest a pill to see what effect it will have.(2)

According to officials, abusive use of prescription drugs often leads to other addictions, specifically opiate and heroin addictions. Statistics show over four million people in the U.S. are abusing opiates and one million have a heroin addiction. Heroin is a less expensive alternative to prescription drugs, and heroin addiction has increased 12% between 2009 and 2011. (2)

Despite all the attention prescription drug use has been getting lately, the leading cause of accidental death in New Jersey continues to be death by overdose. Since 2004, there have been about 6,000 fatal overdoses in the State.(2)

A conference of medical professionals was held recently at Hackensack University Medical Center to explore ways to overcome this growing problem. The focus of this conference was on educating both the public and providers of prescription medications of the dangers of the improper use of these drugs. One major problem is people who travel from one state to another, seeking doctors who will prescribe medication for feigned ailments. The idea of a national registry that would allow doctors to identify those “patients” who were seeking to obtain prescriptions for illegal purposes – either to satisfy their own addictions or to sell the medications on the street – was discussed as one possible step towards alleviating the problem.(3)

In the meantime, parents are encouraged to properly dispose of unused medications, rather than store them, thus removing the temptation for their teens to experiment with the pills. Taking advantage of the National Prescription Take Back Day is one way of doing just that. In the previous six Take Back days, the DEA collected almost 2.8 million pounds of prescription medications that otherwise could have been abused.(1)

Noting the success of National Prescription Take Back Day, various police departments throughout New Jersey have cooperated to establish Project Medicine Drop. Through this program, lock boxes have been set up in designated police stations throughout the State for residents to drop off their unused prescription pills at any time during the year without having to wait for one designated day. To find the location of a participating police department nearest you, visit the NJ Consumer Affairs website and use the interactive map available. (4)


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