News / USA

US Sees Growing Problem With Prescription Drug Abuse

Dr. Jacob Khushigian checks on a patient who had overdosed - also showing his computer data base that lets doctors know what drugs their patients already are taking - shown in a Kaweah Delta Emergency Room in Visalia, California, February 2010. (file phot
Dr. Jacob Khushigian checks on a patient who had overdosed - also showing his computer data base that lets doctors know what drugs their patients already are taking - shown in a Kaweah Delta Emergency Room in Visalia, California, February 2010. (file phot

U.S. health officials say drug abuse is a major cause of death in the United States and that prescription drugs are a big part of the problem.  Painkillers and mood-altering medications have left many people addicted, with serious results.

At the Malibu Beach Recovery Center, outside Los Angeles, residents learn yoga and other coping skills to deal with anxiety, stress and chronic pain. Yoga teacher Shannon Scott was once hooked herself on the anti-anxiety pill Xanax and the painkiller Vicodin.

“Vicodin was a stimulant for me. So I also used Vicodin as something to get my engine going and carry me through the days, and my Xanax would balance me out and bring me down and relax me. But one was to calm me down and the other was to give me the energy to move forward,” said Scott.

Drug poisoning

U.S. health officials say that poisoning was a major cause of death in 2008, and that nearly 9 of 10 poisonings were caused by drugs. The so-called opioid painkillers - morphine, hydrocodone and oxycodone - were involved in more than 40 percent of drug poisonings in 2008.  The number has more than tripled in a decade.

That's not news to Mary Ann Gunn, a retired drug court judge who now appears on a TV program called Last Shot With Judge Gunn, which shows the real-life effect of drugs on users and their families.

“In 1999, the big problem was methamphetamine. And it was a cancer, if you will, throughout our country. And we have addressed that and are continuing to address it. And more and more over the years we began to see people being addicted to prescription drugs.”

Specialized drug courts work with the addicts to get them into counseling and rehabilitation.

Powerful painkillers

Pharmacologist James Adams of the University of Southern California says the expanding list of powerful painkillers is snaring many patients, who are usually unaware of the dangers.

“I'm not talking about heroine abusers on the streets of LA [Los Angeles].  I'm talking about somebody's grandmother in Fresno dying from oxycodone, dying from hydrocodone, dying from morphine,” said Adams.

The recent U.S. government data shows the rate of fatal drug poisonings was highest among people 45 to 54 years old.

At the Malibu Beach Recovery Center, the addicted get off drugs, but it's not easy. The regimen includes healthy food and counseling. Joan Borsten, who heads the center, said it's hard because the drugs change the body's chemistry.

“In the case of pain pills, the body has stopped producing its natural defenses to pain, and they just have to have more and more and more and more, and finally there's nothing else to take,” said Adams.

Healthy regimen

He said that 90 million people have chronic pain, much of it from arthritis caused by obesity and aging.

“And it's a real tough problem for a doctor because here you've got a patient with chronic pain, probably howling pain, reporting pain at 7 out of 10 or something like that, and these patients know exactly how to get what they want," said Adams. "And if that doctor doesn't give it to them, they just go to the next doctor.”

He said the solution is using alternative ways to manage pain - losing weight, exercising and receiving physical therapy - and giving powerful drugs only to those who need them. Another solution: a registry of patients being used in California and many other states that lets doctors and pharmacists know what potentially dangerous drugs their patients already are taking.

You May Like

HRW: Egypt's Trial of Morsi ‘Badly Flawed’

Human Rights Watch says former Egypt leader's detention without charge for more than three weeks after his removal from office violated Egyptian law; government rejects criticism More

Photogallery Lancet Report Calls for Major Investment in Surgery

In its report published by The Lancet, panel of experts says people are dying from conditions easily treated in the operating room such as hernia, appendicitis, obstructed labor, and serious fractures More

Music Industry Under Sway of Digital Revolution

Millions of people in every corner of the Earth now can enjoy a vast variety and quantity of music in a way that has never before been possible More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs