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July 3rd, 2009
07:08 AM ET

Commentary: The face of substance abuse today

Andrew T. Wainwright is a national expert on addictions and intervention. He is co-author of the book "It’s Not Okay to Be a Cannibal – How to Stop Addiction from Eating Your Family Alive" and CEO for AiR, which provides behavioral health case management services that are a beneficial addition to the treatment of chemical dependency, mental health and eating disorders.

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="Andrew Wainwright is a national expert on addictions and intervention."]

From my desk on the front lines of addiction treatment, the view is staggering. Prescription drugs are prevalent, proliferating and have introduced a new generation to the wonderful world of drug addiction.

These are people who otherwise might never have experienced addiction. The previous barriers to entry of stigma and circumstance were too high. Dangerous neighborhoods and unsavory characters, untrustworthy chemicals to be taken in unspecific amounts and the fear of becoming addicted kept most amateurs on the sidelines. But in 1996 that all changed.

In January of 1996, Purdue Pharma, a privately-held pharmaceutical company, launched the marketing campaign for their new pain relief product OxyContin. OxyContin was supposed to be nonabusable thanks to a special time-release ingredient. Unfortunately, this proved not to be true.

This might not have been such a big deal had Purdue not launched a multi-million dollar national advertising campaign, targeting both doctors and consumers alike. This campaign had a two-pronged approach. First Purdue incented doctors to prescribe their products then they encouraged consumers to request them by promising legitimacy, safety and lack of consequences.

From a purely business standpoint it was the right thing to do – if you can drive demand you can sell more product. From a “What are the long term effects on our society?” standpoint – it was devastating.

Today, three percent of our population is abusing prescription drugs. Prescription drug abuse accounts for forty percent of all treatment center admissions. Prescription drug abuse is growing fastest among teenagers and young adults.

These are the worst stats we could hope for.

Now, 13 years later, we are beginning to understand what happened. The question that haunts us all is “What are we going to do about it?”

Long-term solutions are indeed challenging, but here are three ideas you can adopt right now that will foster immediate positive change.

1. Restrict readily available supply. One of the easiest ways prescription drugs get diverted to the street or abused is through unmanaged access or theft from American homes. If you have leftover, unused portions of prescription pain medication in the medicine cabinet at home – get rid of them.

2. Talk to your doctor. The more information you give your health care professional(s) about medications you are on and the more questions you ask about medications the better for both of you. Avoid becoming an “accidental addict” due to lack of communication.

3. Don’t accept the status quo. Just because someone tells you, “it’s okay, I’ve got a prescription,” doesn’t necessarily make it okay. Trust your gut. Be willing to take risks to keep others safe. Be willing to be the bad guy. Be willing to be wrong.

4. Make help available to those that are struggling. If someone you know is struggling with an addiction to prescription drugs get him or her help as soon as possible. Treatment works.

Substance abuse is one of our nation’s largest health issues and prescription drug abuse is its face today. There are no easy solutions but there are solutions if we are all willing to do the work.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Andrew Wainwright.

Filed under: Commentary • Drugs
soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. Margaret

    It's time for American citizens to rear their trust full heads of government out of the sand, regarding the need for Health care reform, since our government will not! Our government has supposedly, been waging a "war against drugs,since the Nixon era to the American public, while quietly, relishing in kick-back money from allowing the influx of drugs to America! However, along the way, our government devised a plan, through HMO's to become the new "Drug Czars". As a result, they have cut out the International czars to get bigger feed-back funds for themselves! Our new war on drugs, should be against our on government (and the FDA), who are controlled by the pharmaceutical companies, who lobby and pay them "Big Bucks" to put them into office and perpetuate this horrific problem!! Our fight needs to be focus on the pharmaceutical drug czars and the Doctors they give "kick-backs to (the new face of drug dealers) and our government, who readily accept money, that allows this to continue!!!

    July 6, 2009 at 6:53 am |
  2. Sandy May

    I'm also a fan of Michael, I grew up with his music and did the moonwalk. But at this point I'm seriously interested in knowing what role anxiety, depression and insomnia played in his demise. My husband suffers from ADD and for more than 15 years been taking a high number of prescribed drugs that seams to weaken overtime resulting in sleep deprivation, which causes him to rely more and more on stimulant drugs in order to function at work, increasing depression as well as anxiety. Him too, out of desperation, took all the pain killers he could get his hands on and every night wish he could just have a drug strong enough to knock him out until the next morning. Makes me wonder what's going to be the end of it.

    July 3, 2009 at 9:37 am |
  3. Phil elliott

    John Roberts, as an ex-chigago guy,

    Don't forget about drug company advertising and how it effects TV news?

    Maybe your stations income?

    July 3, 2009 at 7:22 am |