Prescription pills a growing problem

By Brenda Wiewel

Prescription drug abuse is the nation’s fastest-growing drug problem and has been classified as an epidemic by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The news has had a number of recent stories about prescription drug misuse and abuse. Data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) shows that nearly one-third of people aged 12 and over who used drugs for the first time in 2009 began by using a prescription drug non-medically. Often, they believe that these substances are safer than illicit drugs because they are prescribed by a healthcare professional and dispensed by a pharmacist.

However, in L.A. County in 2009, there were more than 650 prescription/over-the-counter (OTC) drug-related deaths, more than 3,000 hospitalizations, and 5,000 emergency department visits for prescription/OTC drug overdose.

Prescription drugs are used inappropriately when they are (1) taken on a schedule or dosage that is different from prescribed; (2) shared by another person; (3) taken without a prescription; and (4) taken in combination with other drugs or substances such as alcohol. Often, people obtain pain relievers from a friend or relative.

Some of the most commonly abused prescription drugs include opiates such as codeine or oxycodone; stimulants such as ritalin or provigil; and sedatives such as ativan, klonopin, lunesta, or robaxin. All these types of drugs have powerful effects on the body’s nervous system and brain. They should be monitored by a doctor very carefully and taken only for limited periods of time in relation to specific symptoms.

Otherwise, psychological and/or physical dependence can develop. The person then becomes motivated to seek out the drug, irrespective of their medical issues, and often without realizing what they are doing.

The Office of National Drug Control and Prevention published a plan for preventing prescription drug abuse in 2011. It includes education for parents, youths and patients about the dangers and risks of abusing prescription drugs. A drug use screening can be useful to determine if someone is developing a reliance on prescription drugs.

If you are interested in more information or would like to schedule a screening for yourself, a family member, or friend, please call (562) 906-2676 and talk with a counselor at Los Angeles Centers for Alcohol and Drug Abuse (L.A. CADA) today. You may visit our website for more information at www.

September is National Recovery Month, a time when we can celebrate those in recovery from substance use disorders and educate ourselves to help prevent substance abuse.

Brenda Wiewel, L.C.S.W., is executive director of the Los Angeles Centers for Alcohol and Drug Abuse. She can be reached at 562-906-2686, ext. 103 or by e-mail at

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