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Linda Rosenberg

Former President and CEO, National Council for Behavioral Health

The Epidemic Hiding in Your Living Room

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Nearly a third of people who use drugs for the first time begin by using a prescription drug non-medically, and data suggests that one in 15 people who take non-medical prescription pain relievers will try heroin within 10 years.

In 2014, I wrote about the difficulties policymakers are having coming to terms with the prescription drug and heroin epidemic, which does not discriminate based on age, race or wealth. It has crept into the halls of high schools and hidden on the internet and in living rooms.

America cannot simply arrest its way out of the drug problem. Solutions require a broad, multi-pronged approach of education and prevention tools, as well as expanded treatment options.

Parents and children, teachers and students, and lawmakers and the public must open lines of communication. According to the National Institute for Drug Abuse, teenagers are 50 percent less likely to abuse prescription drugs when they learn the risks from their parents. Proactive education about prescription drug misuse, heroin use, suicide and overdose is necessary. These are dangerous drugs with real consequences, and communities cannot be blinded by prejudice.

Additionally, addiction and overdosing can be prevented by cautious prescribing of painkillers. Prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMP) provide good tools to curb doctor-shopping by individuals with an addiction and identify improper prescribing practices. In fact, after one year of using a PDMP, New York and Tennessee saw respective 75 and 36 percent drops in patients who saw multiple prescribers to obtain the same drugs.

Addiction needs to be recognized as a disease that can be prevented and treated and from which individuals recover. Only one in 10 people with addictions receive treatment — we can do better. Individuals with substance use problems need access to safe, effective pain treatment and need to know how to use the resources available to them through the Affordable Care Act. In addition, primary care providers need to be aware of the signs of abuse and work with behavioral health caregivers when help is required.

Only access to education, prevention, treatment and recovery support will be able to put an end to this epidemic’s devastating consequences.

(Excerpted from “The Epidemic Hiding in Your Living Room” Mediaplanet’s special report Medication Addiction distributed through USA Today.)