Editorial: Drug-abuse report yields some positive signs
New government data suggest that efforts to curb prescription drug abuse may be paying off. Nevertheless, the new report underscores that there is still much to be done to reduce the toll that substance abuse takes on the American people.
The National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported Monday that the number of people abusing narcotic pain pills, tranquilizers, stimulants and sedatives nationwide in 2011 was 6.1 million, a 12.9 percent drop from 2010 and the lowest rate of abuse since 2002, according to USA Today.
Leading the way for the decrease were young adults, or people ages 18 to 25, whose abuse of prescription drugs fell by 14 percent, according to the report.
Pamela Hyde, administrator of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which sponsored the survey, credits public health and law enforcement efforts for the decline. She said the decrease shows that such efforts against the abuse of powerful painkillers such as oxycodone and hydrocodone work.
Certainly, states such as West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio have launched several initiatives in recent years to combat the abuse. Prescription-monitoring programs, law enforcement crackdowns on so-called "pill mills" and new laws placing tighter controls on pain clinics have resulted. And they were badly needed; those three states all rank in the top 10 for highest rates of overdose deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In addition, grassroots public awareness efforts such as those by the Cabell County Substance Abuse Prevention Partnership have played a role in educating the public about the dangers of substance abuse.
Yet this week's report also indicated trends that remain alarming. For example, it noted that the number of people addicted to pain relievers in 2011 -- about 1.4 million -- was about 50 percent higher than in 2002. In regard to other types of drugs, the survey found that marijuana use continues to increase among youth, and fewer of them think using marijuana is risky.
Clearly, efforts to combat drug abuse and educate people -- particularly our young people -- about the dangers associated with it are still sorely needed.
People will have an opportunity on Saturday to help. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, with the assistance of local law enforcement agencies and groups such as CCSAPP, is once again sponsoring a National Prescription Drug Take Back Day. The event, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., offers the public a safe, easy way to dispose of unwanted or expired prescription drugs. Doing so is important, because authorities say a large percentage of people who abuse the medications get them from friends and family, either for free or by buying them or stealing them. Reducing the supply of such drugs is one way to help curb abuse.
Participating in the drug take back event won't stop all the misuse of these types of drugs by any means, but doing so is a key part of an overall effort that should be continued aggressively.