Until the stigma kicks in

Published 5:56 pm Monday, May 23, 2016

An epidemic crept up out of nowhere, starting innocently enough as a way to manage chronic pain. Prescription painkillers had a purpose, but that initial purpose has become a monster, leading people to the door and stepping over the threshold into addiction.

These people are not “bad” people. These are people who function every day — they have jobs, families, bills to pay — without anyone ever guessing they have an addiction. Many don’t even consider feeding their addictions illegal. After all, the drugs are made and sold legally. The only difference between legal and illegal is a slip of paper with a doctor’s signature.

Keep in mind the U.S. population is a little less than 323 million. Here are some truly disturbing statistics about many of those people: 52 million of them have used prescription drugs non-medically; 6.1 million just in the past month. The U.S. has 5 percent of the world’s population, yet consumes 75 percent of the world’s prescription drugs. In 2010, doctors prescribed enough painkillers to medicate every American adult every four hours for a month.

Where are the abused drugs coming from? An estimated 55 percent of people get their drugs from a friend or relative. Another 18 percent have a single doctor who prescribes enough to keep the addicted afloat; about 2 percent get them prescribed by several doctors, a process called “doctor shopping.” Some 17 percent of the addicted steal or buy them from a friend or relative, and a small percentage buy them online. Only 4 percent of people buy them from a drug dealer or stranger.

Of the stated reasons as to why people abuse prescription drugs, 51 percent said they are not illegal; 33 percent said there is less shame in using them; 50 percent said it’s easy to get them through others’ prescriptions; 62 percent said they’re easy to get, especially from family members’ medicine cabinets.

Abuse of prescription drugs is an epidemic, one that the residents of Beaufort County are participants. Every week, EMS responds to overdoses. Many of those are from prescription pain pills; others are from heroin. Heroin is the end of the road for many people who start their addictions through legally prescribed painkillers. Once the need can no longer keep up with the source, the addicted turn to the cheaper opioid of heroin.

The fact there is less stigma attached to use of the prescription painkillers has contributed to the current epidemic. It’s not okay to abuse prescription drugs. Without a prescription, they are illegal in the same way buying a bag of cocaine on the street is illegal.

Local law enforcement makes arrests every day to cut down on the abuse of prescription drugs, but until the conversation is happening everywhere, and the stigma is as great for painkiller abuse as it is for crack cocaine, the epidemic will continue to grow, taking Beaufort County right along with it.