Prescription Drug Abuse: When Talking About the Problem Isn’t Enough

Monday, April 25th, 2011

Earlier this week, The New York Times published a tragic story about how prescription drug abuse has devastated the Appalachian city of Portsmouth, Ohio.  Sadly, this is a story I’ve heard from communities across the country. The fast-growing abuse of painkillers, now called America’s deadliest drug problem, has killed more people than crack cocaine in the 1980s and heroin in the 1970s.

While I applaud The Times for calling attention to this very serious issue, I was disappointed that the article focused on the problem to the near exclusion of solutions.  The story briefly mentioned the need for tighter regulation of pain clinics that operate as “pill mills” and the prosecution of people who knowingly sell pills to substance abusers. These, of course, are critical measures, as outlined in the White House’s Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Plan. But what about expanding the availability of treatment for the many young people and adults who are already struggling with painkiller addiction?

In Portsmouth, one company reported that it was having difficulty finding job candidates who could pass a drug test.  Grandparents are raising children because their addicted parents cannot care for them. When a drug problem has escalated to this extent, we must also increase access to the vital services that can turn these troubled lives around.

I’m grateful that Ohio Gov. John Kasich has decided to allocate state funds towards combating this crisis—and I hope an appropriate portion of this spending will be devoted to expanding treatment for these problems.  The cycle of prescription drug addiction can only end when substance abusers gain the tools to live sober, productive lives. When mothers and fathers don’t receive help, their kids are more likely to develop the same problems.  But people can and do recover—and with parents in recovery, children can thrive. This is the message we need to spread as we tell the story of Portsmouth and other communities where prescription drug abuse is causing so many problems.  Focusing on the problem won’t do any good unless we also offer solutions and raise awareness of methods to ensure a brighter future for the next generation.

Deni Carise, Ph.D.
Chief Clinical Officer, Phoenix House

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