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Virginia joins a coalition to study prescription drug abuse
PRESCRIPTION drugs are a great blessing to anyone whose body is wracked with pain or driven to distraction by attention deficit disorder. But these drugs are also being abused, especially by teens, in record numbers. Virginia's participation in a yearlong policy group could help curb that trend.
The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America and the National Governors Association have together created the Prescription Drug Abuse Reduction Policy Academy. Virginia is one of seven states to be awarded a $45,000 competitive grant to participate in the policy academy. Members will collaborate to develop a comprehensive battle plan against prescription drug abuse.
According to the National Institutes of Health, in 2010 some 7 million Americans were using prescription drugs illegally every month. Most of these drugs were painkillers; some were the stimulants used to treat ADD. Among teens, 1 in 12 high-school students reported using Vicodin that had not been prescribed for them; 1 in 20 had taken OxyContin.
Many of these drugs are highly addictive; some can cause serious side effects if they are abruptly stopped. There's also a risk of overdose, plus a higher incidence of HIV infection among prescription drug users.
Addiction to prescription drugs is now epidemic in Southwest Virginia, according to Timothy Heaphy, U.S. attorney for the Western District of the state. He has initiated a multi-pronged program to fight the scourge, which fuels crime, destroys relationships, and drives up social-welfare spending.
What's behind the increase in prescription drug abuse? There's a misperception that because the drugs are legal they are harmless; in addition, there's been an exponential increase in their legitimate use: NIH notes that between 1991 and 2010, legitimate prescriptions for stimulants (e.g., Adderall or Ritalin) increased from 5 million to nearly 45 million; painkiller scripts jumped from about 75.5 million to 209.5 million. All those drugs in medicine cabinets make a tempting cache for people prone to abuse--or experimentation.
Gov. McDonnell says that in joining the Policy Academy, Virginia is "primed to take the next step to coordinate a comprehensive strategy that will guide our efforts to reduce prescription-drug abuse throughout the commonwealth." Raising awareness of the problem is a good first step.