Prescription drug abuse is an epidemic in Indiana and across the country. Families are being destroyed every day by an addiction with a medical face. They're being destroyed by opiate pain killers for the most part, drugs like Vicodin and Oxycontin and Opana. But they're being torn apart by sedatives and tranquilizers too, as distressed children and parents seek relief in anti-anxiety agents like Xanax and Klonipin, then go over the edge when using these drugs becomes the focus of their lives. Coming in third are stimulants like Ritalin and Adderall, the preferred weapon against ADHD in children and adults alike.
A quick Google search will show how widespread the problem is. On the first page alone, there are news stories of officials in no less than three states instituting new checks on doctors and pharmacists. They're also trying to establish awareness programs to draw attention to the prescription drug epidemic. There are stories about the governor of Nevada and the Attorneys General in Wisconsin and West Virginia. In all three, these officials are pleading with the public and their legislatures to take prescription drug abuse seriously and enact new laws to curtail it.
Prescription drug abuse is not a new problem. Nor are these attempts to curtail it the first we've seen. In 2012, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller established our first prescription drug abuse task force. He also established www.BitterPill.IN.gov, a public web site that offers resources and information to help combat prescription drug abuse. And apparently these programs are working, at least to an extent. According to the IN.gov website, opioid prescriptions have decreased 11% since the programs were established in December 2013.
Just as with every index of drug abuse in the United States and Indiana, the prescription drug statistics are staggering. The HIV epidemic in Scott County, IN is well documented, some 5% of the population infected by use of shared needles. The majority of these cases were the result of prescription drug use. Nationwide, we see similar alarming trends. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse website (NIDA), some 52 million people in the United States have taken prescription drugs for nonmedical reasons in their lifetime. That's 20% of the population of persons 12 or older. And the problem is afffecting our children as well. Again according to the NIDA, 1 in 12 high school seniors reported nonmedical use of Vicodin in 2010. And 1 in 20 admitted to using Oxycontin during the same period.
The nature of new prescription drug policies over the past several years is telling. In general, they have little to do with harsher laws and increased conviction rates. Of course, prescription forgery and doctors who dispense controlled substances irresponsibly will be criminally prosecuted, but those laws have been in place for decades. These new attempts are clearly designed to change our culture at the grass roots level. They are designed to combat attitudes of easy acceptance and denial in our country. Through these new safeguards and policies, public officials are taking on our culture itself, especially its longstanding tendency to rely on dangerous pharmaceutical drugs for problems that have many safer therapeutic alternatives.
Prescription drug abuse looks different on the surface, but it's just as damaging as any illegal addiction when we look at it up close. Prescription drug abuse is easy to hide and justify. Friends and families of the heroin or cocaine addict might look the other way when sensing the struggles of their loved ones, but few would participate or approve of their illegal drug use. It's different with prescription drugs. No loving family would begrudge one of its members for seeking relief from terrible pain or anxiety. They want to help and support them, not to judge the ways they find relief. But the signs of prescription drug abuse are there, just as they are with the use of so called harder drugs. In fact, these signs are exactly the same. So is the damage done to Hoosier and American families.