Most Utahns wouldn't know where to buy street drugs. For that matter, a good many Utahns don't drink alcohol.
Yet Utah has a serious problem with prescription drug abuse and overdoses. The problem is so profound that, in 2006, overdoses accounted for more deaths than motor vehicle accidents and illegal drug overdoses combined, according to the Utah Department of Health.
We're not just talking about teens swiping prescription medication from their parents' medicine cabinets, which is a growing problem in Utah. We're talking about adults who never have been risk takers. But for some reason, when prescribed highly powerful painkillers such as OxyContin, they don't follow instructions. They overmedicate and they get addicted to the high. When they can no longer obtain prescriptions for opiate-based drugs, some turn to street drugs such as heroin.
Experts say it is time to quit denying the statistics. It's time for community conversations. This past week, about 30 people met with public health officials in Provo to discuss prescription drug abuse in that community. This effort is laudable and should be repeated throughout the state.
The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy recommends one simple means to pinch off the prescription drug supply: proper disposal of unneeded drugs. Then, the painkiller prescribed for one's surgery will not be easily accessible when one wrenches his back doing yard work. Nor will the drugs be available when your teenage son or daughter rummages through the family medicine cabinet on his or her way to a "pharm party," where guests place prescription drugs in a bowl and select pills to take at random.
Prescription drug abuse is particularly insidious because many people believe any medication prescribed by a physician couldn't possibly be harmful. If prescription medications are used as prescribed and only by the person for which they are prescribed, there should be few problems. Prescription drugs help many people manage chronic health problems, provide temporary pain relief, eliminate symptoms of illnesses or in the case of antibiotics, kill disease-causing bacteria.
But they are also ripe for abuse when they fall into the wrong hands or when people exceed recommended doses. Such abuses can lead to deadly overdoses or addiction to street drugs, which can lead to overdose deaths, too.
Utahns need to accept the fact that prescription drug abuse, addiction and overdose can happen anywhere and follow Provo's example of launching a community conversation.