Diane Mufson: Prescription-drug usage requires more care
Last weekend our community participated in the 8th "National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day." It's a pity such a day is needed. It reminds us that not only are street drugs causing dreadful results, but also that prescription drug abuse is a major problem in our nation.
We shouldn't need a day every six months to collect tons of unused or outdated pills. While they can be helpful for pain and emotional issues, prescription medications are frequently abused. It is my hypothesis that a new attitude regarding utilization of these medications is needed. Doctors should write fewer prescriptions for them and informed patients should consume them more judiciously.
We have become a nation of drug-seekers. We are uneducated about the chemicals we put into our bodies. We choose to believe all medications are safe and will solve whatever ails us. Despite the warnings of horrific side effects, the active smiling people we see in TV commercials encourage us to ask our doctors for numerous medications. Ironically, commercials from attorneys often follow and attempt to convince us to sue the pharmaceutical companies for producing the same products.
In my work as a psychologist, I encountered many folks who had been prescribed a variety of pills by their doctors to "make them feel better." The clients had little or no knowledge about how these drugs worked and were clueless about their addictive potential.
Although I have never had the authority or knowledge to prescribe medication, a personal experience gives me a leg to stand on in this issue. Actually, it's my left leg. After a deep growth was removed in a tedious process, I was given a 30-day prescription for pain medication that is known to be addictive.
Informing the doctor's office that I wasn't going to fill the prescription resulted in strange looks from the staff. "But your leg is going to hurt badly for a few days," they said. That was true, but over-the-counter analgesics worked reasonably well. I suspect that many of our initial medication abuses start with a similar scenario.
Had I had a more serious surgery and/or a bigger medical problem, pain pills could have been needed. There are serious and life-threatening illnesses where there should be no question of the need for major pain medications.
I'll also guess that much of the medication that we are urged to remove from our nation's medicine chests are not prescribed for hypertension, cholesterol, diabetes or are antibiotics. There's no market for these among drug abusers.
When we moved to Huntington and my husband first saw patients, he noted that some of them reported that they lost or accidentally flushed their pills down the toilet and needed a new prescription immediately. Interestingly, no antibiotics were ever disposed of in this way; the same could not be said for addictive medications. According to The Herald-Dispatch, in a recent one-year period almost 10,000 pounds of unwanted and expired drugs were collected in Southern West Virginia; Cabell County, alone, brought in over 1,000 pounds of these items.
Drugs of all kinds are rampant in our community and the world. Some are accepted as part of the social scene, while others, such as heroin, can and do result in rapid tragedy. We cannot easily change the use of such drugs, but we can do something about prescription drug abuse. Doctors can be more prudent in writing prescriptions for addictive medications and patients can learn more about the long-term effects of such drugs.
Diane W. Mufson is a retired psychologist. She is a former citizen member of The Herald-Dispatch editorial board and a regular contributor to The Herald-Dispatch editorial page. Her email is email@example.com and her website is www.dianewmufson.com.
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