News broke last month that officials in the South American nation of Uruguay were planning to possibly legalize marijuana. Meanwhile, activists in Colorado have sought to legalize the drug in that state, while Chicago’s city council decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana and reduced the penalty to a ticket.
Supporters of legalization or at least liberalization of marijuana laws argue that it would take control of the marijuana trade out of the hands of drug cartels. But in recent years, one of the most rapidly growing problems with drug abuse hasn’t involved cannabis or heroin or cocaine, but prescription drugs — a trend that has been implicated in both drug overdoses and pharmacy crime.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, part of the National Institutes of Health, Abbott’s opioid painkiller, Vicodin (hydrocodone and acetaminophen), and Teva’s attention deficit hyperactivity disorder drug, Adderall (amphetamine aspartate, amphetamine sulfate, dextroamphetamine saccharate and dextroamphetamine sulfate), are the most commonly abused drugs after marijuana among 12th-graders, while the National Education Association Health Information Network estimated that 1-in-5 high school students have used a prescription drug without a doctor’s prescription. This includes 1-in-12 high school seniors who have abused Vicodin and 1-in-20 who have abused Purdue Pharma’s painkiller, OxyContin (oxycodone). Meanwhile, between 1999 and 2008, opioid painkillers were the leading cause of unintentional drug overdose deaths, dwarfing the rates of cocaine and heroin, according to the institute.
Still, several policy-makers and companies have sought ways to confront the problem. Last month, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a plan — calling it the first in the country — to create an all- electronic registry that would enable doctors, pharmacists and law enforcement to track controlled substances to prevent excessive prescription and refill requests. “This landmark agreement will help put a stop to the growing number of fatalities resulting from overdoses on prescription drugs,” Cuomo said. “We have seen too many untimely deaths as a result of prescription drug abuse, and today New York state is taking the lead in saying enough is enough.”
But in addition to preventing drug abusers from illegally getting their hands on prescription medicines, another step to combatting the problem involves education. At the end of last month, the NEA HIN and Purdue Pharma announced the release of a set of cross-curricular lessons aimed at middle-school students designed to discourage prescription drug abuse. “We know that 20% of high school students have reported that they have taken a prescription drug without a doctor’s prescription,” NEA HIN executive director Jerry Newberry said. “This behavior endangers student health and can interfere with academic success. NEA HIN welcomes our partnership with Purdue Pharma to help teachers inform students about the risks of misusing prescription medication.”