Pain Med Addiction Up 400 Percent in Last Decade

The availability of these drugs adds to their appeal, as well. The number one source among prescription medicine addicts is their own family's medicine cabinet, Pasierb says. People are prescribed these medicines legitimately, but when they don't use them up, they hold onto them.

"Hundreds of millions of these pills are sitting in medicine cabinets in every state," Pasierb says. "It's no shock that abuse rates are so high.

"You don't have to go to the scary drug dealer," he adds, "you can steal it from grandma."

Changing Perceptions, Changing Habits

With the aid of SAMHSA's recent reports on this issue, the president has made a special effort to increase awareness and public education on prescription medication as part of the 2010 National Drug Control Strategy, Delany says.

But addiction experts warn that the problem is not going to get better any time soon.

"It's going to take a long concerted effort to slow down the progression of this problem before we can expect to turn it around," says Pasierb.

To fight against the rising tide of prescription drug addictions, experts say its going to take more than public awareness, it's going to take changes in the way that doctors prescribe the medications, the way kids are educated in school, and the way that law enforcement tracks and prosecutes prescription fraud.

Currently, prescription monitoring programs, which help prevent people from "doctor shopping" in order to amass stores of prescription drugs, are in place in 39 states.

"The problem is, these states don't talk to each other, so people just hop on a plane and go somewhere else for their prescriptions," Pasierb says.

Illegally selling prescription drugs also tends to receive less attention by the law enforcement, notes Covin, because illicit drugs get much of the focus.

Covin adds that family doctors often lack the skills needed to recognize and treat prescription drug addiction. Because prescription drug addicts don't carry some of the more visible warning signs that those abusing cocaine or heroine might, the condition often goes undiagnosed.

But above all, experts stress that the change needs to start with the person swallowing the pills. Public awareness of how addictive some of these pain medicine can be and the consequences of that addiction needs to be increased, experts say.

"People think this addiction is a moral issue so it won't happen to them, when in fact it is a disease -- a chronic, progressive disease that, if you don't get help, will become fatal," he says. "People just don't seem to understand that."

The first step can start in the home, Pasierb says: Don't have prescription narcotics on hand if you don't need them. And if you do need them for medical reasons, keep them out of reach of kids and teens.

"It's a complicated issue and it's going to take a lot of changes on the policy, medical and education front," he says. "But if people just cleaned out their medicine cabinet tonight of unnecessary prescription narcotics, it would make a difference immediately."

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