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There is a new dealer in town

When we think about drug abuse, and drug abusers, we get an image in our mind of a seedy-looking individual in an even seedier part of town, disheveled and desperate, using illegal drugs. We presume those drugs were purchased using crumpled up bills exchanged with some low-life guy, both of them making furtive glances right, then left, watching for the cops.

Make no mistake, that is indeed one component of drug abuse. But, there is a new dealer in town. And it could be you.

Prescription drug misuse is on the rise in our nation, and in Pinal County. It has risen to the 4th drug of choice among our young people, preceded by alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana (in that order). In fact, based on the 2012 Arizona Youth Survey, youth in Pinal County had higher rates of prescription drug misuse compared to their peers across the state.

We cannot, however, look only to youth as mis-users of prescription medicine. Many adults are using, misusing, and hording prescription medicines – especially prescription pain medicines. Here are some startling facts, provided by the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission:

  • 61.3% of all the pills prescribed in Pinal County last year were pain relievers, and over half were either oxycodone or hydrocodone.
  • Enough doses of prescription pain relievers were prescribed in 2011 to medicate every Pinal County adult around-the-clock for two weeks.
  • 20.8% of all pills prescribed were benzodiazapines: medicines like valium and xanax that are used to reduce anxiety.

Pain-relievers and anxiety medicines are potentially addicting. If we take the sheer number of pain-relievers and ‘anxiety’ drugs that are in Pinal County (82% of all pills), and couple it with our common household practices, we create enormous opportunity for prescription drug misuse.

Most of us do not take all of the medicine prescribed to us. If it is a pain medication, we take 4 or 5 pills, until the crisis is past, and then supplement with over-the-counter medicine like Tylenol or aspirin. We then save the rest of the prescription medicine, “just in case we need it later”. In truth, most of us have a mini-pharmacy of our own located under our bathroom sink, in the vanity cabinet, or the kitchen cabinet!

Now, along comes a curious youth, or a substance abusing family member, or maybe a friend of a family member who wants to make a little money. They know about our personal ‘pharmacies’ and they take advantage of us by stealing some of our pills. They either sell or trade the pills, and they wind up in the hands of our youth. In 2010, nearly 93% of Pinal County youth obtained the prescription drugs they misused from everyday sources, such as friends, family, or their own household.

So who is this new dealer in town? It could be you! So it is up to each of us to do whatever we can to keep these dangerous medicines out of circulation. Here is how:

  • When you are in need of a prescription pain reliever, you can ask your doctor to not give you synthetic opiates. There are other pain reliever choices that are much less addictive.
  • Clean out your medicine cabinet and remove any medicines that you are not taking regularly. Do not flush them down the toilet; take them to your local police station for disposal. Call 520-836-5022 for medication drop-off box locations, or go to www.casagrandealliance.org.
  • Safely store your remaining medicines out of reach of not only children, but visitors.

Dispatch 11-30-2013 Rx progress

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