Doin’ drugs

By Erica Fatland

There’s an epidemic on the rise in the U.S. and possibly the world & prescription drug abuse.

No, it’s not cocaine or heroin, but it can be almost as destructive as well as deadly.

According to an April cover story in Newsweek on prescription drug abuse, there are no clear statistics on how many people abuse them each year, but a 1999 survey reported that close to four million Americans over 12 used prescription pain relievers, sedatives and stimulants for “non-medical” reasons in the previous month. About half of them were doing so for the first time.

But in the February issue of the Psychiatric Times, a national survey states that close to 3.9 million people in the U.S. are now using prescription-like psychotherapeutic drugs (i.e. pain relievers, tranquilizers or stimulants) for non-medical reasons. The Times makes the comparison to only 2.1 million people who use heroin, cocaine and/or crack cocaine, which they found from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Now I’m not talking about prescriptions for Penicillin or Viagra here, it’s the hard stuff — like Vicodin and OxyContin. Not good. Both drugs are strong pain relievers, used for moderate pain, such as back pain, migraines and post wisdom teeth extraction.

According to Newsweek, one large difference between OxyContin and Vicodin is that the former is rated as having a “high potential for abuse” while the latter only has “some potential.”

I don’t know if it’s true or not (I sure hope it isn’t), but there’s a slight buzz going around NIU that Vicodin is becoming the new recreation drug of choice on college campuses.

So what do these drugs do, exactly?

The National Drug Intelligence Center states that “oxycodone (generic name of OxyContin) is a central nervous system depressant.” Basically, it’s a pain killer and a strong one at that. It’s known as the “poor man’s heroin” and is now often sold illegally on the streets just as heroin is for about $2,000 to $4,000 for a 100-tablet bottle, as compared to the real heroin, which costs $10 a dose, according to the Gainesville, Fla., police department. In the pharmacy itself, it costs about 50 cents to $1 per milligram.

This isn’t good. I realize that addictions are difficult to overcome, darn near impossible for people with addictive personalities — but this is just crazy.

OxyContin is easy on the body when abused because, according to Newsweek, it doesn’t contain acetaminophen, which can hurt the liver. However, the effects can be lasting. In a secondary story in Newsweek, a whole town became addicted to OxyContin. One teenager in Kentucky used it so much that he had to have it every day or else he couldn’t walk without it.

“It’s just this utopic feeling. You feel like you can conquer the world … It’s a better high than anything else.”

And that’s not the scary part. He was so hooked on the drug that he was drinking it with his orange juice, snorting it for lunch and even liquifying and mainlining it. In two months his waist went from 42 to 36 inches. He was going to shady doctors to get it and even stole the pills from his grandfather who had a crippling illness.

Vicodin, which is much like OxyContin, but not as strong, does have acetaminophen, so it can actually do more damage to the body and is a little less potent. It is a hydrocodone, a narcotic analgesic that acts in the central nervous system to relieve pain.

So not only are people abusing illegal drugs, but now they are going to the doctor for a high.

The most frightening part about this? Anyone, logically, can get hooked. According to a 1998 survey in Newsweek, the people who abuse the drug the most are those who have accomplished some college. That’s most of NIU.

The reasons why people would do this is endless. Maybe they started off with a back problem and couldn’t stop taking the painkillers. Maybe they, like many people who use illegal drugs, wanted to stop feeling. Maybe they just wanted to experiment.

Either way, it’s wrong, really wrong.

I think that one of the big problems here is that these drugs are just too easy to get. I mean, doctors prescribe it. But it’s even more than that. Maybe some doctors are just too eager to sign a prescription, any prescription, if it will help the patient.

So what can be done to stop this?

People need to get in the know. If you are hooked on Vicodin or OxyContin, realize that this is a very dangerous deal and yes, you can die from it, just like with crack heroin. It’s that easy to become addicted and take it too far.

Prescribe less, and do so electronically. The common cold doesn’t always need the highest dosage of Sudafed, and the slightest back pain doesn’t always deserve the most potent painkiller. Plus, a new idea has come out to stop the calling in and the false writing of prescriptions & the computer. An April 12 Associated Press story states that “medication errors in hospitals can be cut by more than two-thirds if doctors enter the prescriptions into a computer rather than scribbling it down on paper.” Something that simple could make a big difference.

The abuse of prescription drugs seems to have gone awry in the past few years. And the fight isn’t over. People, even students at NIU, need to realize that using a drug could lead to the abuse it, and that can only lead to trouble & and even death.