Kentucky, along with many other states in the nation, is facing a silent epidemic. The non-medical use and abuse of prescription drugs is a severe problem in many areas of the state, but the general population remains largely unaware of the issue. The truth is that, according to the Attorney General, Kentucky has the sixth highest overdose rate in the country. Since 2000, the number of unintentional deaths due to drug overdose has jumped from 205 to over 1,000 in 2012. For context, that means more people died in Kentucky last year because of prescription drug overdose than in traffic accidents.
Despite these staggering figures, a recent phone poll conducted by the Institute for Policy Research revealed that only four in 10 Kentuckians correctly identified drug overdose as the leading cause of unintentional death in the state. Only in Eastern Kentucky, where the problem is most pronounced, did a majority of residents correctly answer the question. The poll also found that one in three Kentucky residents reported having friends or family who experienced difficulties due to misusing prescription pain medication.
As with most afflictions, the first step toward recovery is awareness—both public awareness and self-awareness. Whether you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, or you’re considering earning a social work degree, or you’re simply a concerned citizen, the information below can help shed light on this growing problem in Kentucky.
Dangers of Prescription Drug Abuse
The most commonly abused prescription drugs are opioids, or pain killers. Opioid painkillers are highly addictive in some individuals, as they have a similar chemical effect in the body as heroin or opium. When combined with alcohol or other drugs, respiratory and cardiac systems are slowed or excited to dangerous levels, which can result in death. Disruption in other bodily functions may result in excessive urination or sweating, uncontrollable nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Users may also experience seizures, coma or death as a result of the misuse of pain killers.
Apart from the immediate physical risks, the most dangerous aspect of prescription drugs is the false assumption that these drugs are “safer” than street drugs because they are prescribed by a physician. That couldn’t be further from the truth. The CDC reports that opioids kill almost twice as many people in the U.S. each year than cocaine and heroin combined.
Effects on the Family
Prescription drug addiction affects the entire family. Teens are particularly at risk of experimenting with prescription drugs due to the common misconception that they are “safer.” According to a 2011 study, one in 12 high school seniors admitted to nonmedical use of Vicodin, and one in 20 reported abused of OxyContin.
The problem is much more severe in rural areas. In Eastern Kentucky, an unprecedented number of children are being raised by extended family because their biological parents are suffering from addiction, or have died as a result of prescription drug abuse. The 2010 U.S. Census reported that 86,000 Kentucky children live with someone other than a parent. According to CNN, in Rockcastle County, population 16,000, one person dies each week from prescription drug overdose.
Prevention and Treatment
Provisions have been enacted to help combat prescription drug abuse in Kentucky. Organizations like Operation UNITE and Keep Kentucky Kids Safe help to raise awareness, provide support to those struggling with addiction and fight for stronger regulations on prescription narcotics. The Prescription Drug Task Force works across state lines to help fight the pipeline of prescription drugs into Kentucky. In 2005, Kentucky became the first state to launch an online tracking system for potentially addictive drugs. The Kentucky All-Schedule Prescription Electronic Reporting (KASPER) system monitors information on the prescriber, dispenser and individual who received the medication to help crack down on medical providers that may overprescribe or intervene when a patient fills a suspicious amount of prescriptions for controlled substances.
While state and community programs can go a long way in the fight against prescription drug abuse, the frontlines are in the home. There are small steps everyone can take. Parents should talk to their kids about the dangers of prescription drug abuse. If prescribed a controlled narcotic, follow the disposal guidelines. Don’t share or give prescription drugs to anyone other than the intended patient. Kentucky has established an anonymous drug and alcohol rehab helpline for anyone suffering from addiction. If you or a loved one needs help with a substance abuse problem, it’s not too late. You can overcome addiction, and people are willing to help.
Drug abuse social workers are well-trained in managing addiction and relapses. If you’re interested in joining the fight against prescription drug abuse and addiction, a social work degree can enable you to achieve change in your community.
Brescia University is currently the only school in Kentucky to offer an accredited BSW fully online. Brescia University’s Bachelor of Social Work degree program has been fully accredited by the Council on Social Work Education since June 2000. For more information on online social work degrees offered through Brescia University, visit online.brescia.edu.