Prescription Drug Abuse on the Rise

prescription abuseMost are aware of the dangers of drugs such as heroin or cocaine. They are illegal and rightly so due to the damage they cause and their complete lack of medical utility. Yet certain prescription drugs are necessary for doctors and patients can also lead to addiction if abused. The rise of prescription drug abuse is a growing problem.Drugs, both legal and illegal, are prevalent in modern society. Due to educational initiatives most, if not all of us are aware of the dangers that are involved with using illegal substances. Alongside the physical and mental damage that can result in drug use there is also the looming spectre of addiction. Decades ago the UK government took action and in an act of Parliament known as the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 classified drugs into three different groups, A,B and C.  Class A drugs, which carry the highest penalty, include substances such as heroin and cocaine. The penalties decrease in severity from A to B and from B to C.


In recent years this system has come under scrutiny. For instance, some campaigners question why these drugs are outlawed yet tobacco and nicotine, which can both be addictive and destructive, are legal, taxed and regulated. That is a debate for a different blog and shall not be addressed here.

Importantly, it must be recognised that just because a drug is present on the government list of controlled substances, does not mean that they have no utility from a medical perspective. Codeine, an opiate and class B drug can be carefully prescribed by a physician as a painkiller. Anyone who has undergone some form of serious surgery knows that during recovery in hospitals morphine can be given to patients to lessen pain, but always under strict supervision given its addictive potential. The same can be said for certain tranquilizers, sleeping pills and steroids that all fall within the framework of class C. When prescribed by doctors, and with the correct instructions and supervision, some of these illegal drugs perform an important medical purpose.

The reason why the drugs mentioned above, despite their usefulness, are strictly controlled is due to their potential for abuse. When used recreationally and not under doctor supervision the results can be disastrous. Addiction and death are two of the obvious dangers, which is why the rise of prescription drug abuse in both the United States and the UK is of such concern. This problem has only recently been recognised as a serious public health issue. Like most addictions and mental health disorders we face at Lifeworks, prescription drug abuse is an equal opportunity offender. A teenager prescribed painkillers for a sports injury can become addicted as easily as a middle aged person who is prescribed Valium for anxiety.

Estimates from the United States indicate that in 2010 around eight percent of kids aged between 12 and 17 used prescription drugs for non medical purposes. The real problem lies in the fact that these pills are so easily available. As well as this, due to the fact that doctors prescribe them quite willingly, the illusion exists that they are not dangerous and can be taken safely. As an illustration of this point consider that estimates from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention show that enough painkillers were prescribed in the US in 2010 to keep the entire adult population of the country medicated for a month straight. Quite simply, the availability of prescription drugs in modern society is far higher than any of what are considered the traditional illegal drugs, such as heroin or LSD.

As said before, prescription drug abuse is a problem that has only begun to come to light and considered a serious public health issue, (not that it wasn’t before, much like mental health disorders this problem has probably existed for some time before people began to take it seriously). Given the medical necessity of some of these drugs it would be counter-productive to ban them outright. Many people rely on them as a legitimate treatment. Simply put, we need as a society to educate ourselves on the dangers that are inherent when using drugs, even those prescribed by physicians. Prescription drugs can be life-savers when taken correctly, but they can also destroy lives when abused.

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