Prescription drug abuse is growing exponentially, but law enforcement resources in this important area are lacking.
A study completed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration indicated that treatment admissions for prescription drug abuse were up 400% from 1998 to 2008 for those aged 12 years and older.
This finding seems like both good and bad news to me. The bad news is that this highlights the enormous increase in and current abuse of prescription medications, keeping in mind that not everyone with this addiction seeks or is able to find rehabilitation.
The good news is that apparently more and more individuals are recognizing that prescription drugs can be very addictive, and that it is necessary to seek professional help to deal with prescription drug addiction, just as they would for addiction to illicit drugs. Of course, there are varying degrees of success in these programs, and relapses are not uncommon. Health professionals have historically achieved the most success in helping individuals with drug abuse problems.
This should remind all of us that it takes prevention, treatment, and enforcement if curbing prescription drug abuse is going to have a chance. It seems to me that all too often the treatment portion of these 3 components tends to be lacking more than the other 2. Some of the areas of our nation that historically experience the most prescription drug abuse have limited or no treatment facilities nearby, often due to the fact that many times these areas are rural.
With diminishing budgets, our state and local resources to support treatment are less than plentiful. The same is true in the area of prevention and enforcement. In many instances, if law enforcement has a fulltime drug diversion investigator, he or she represents the first program to be reduced or abandoned by police administrators. This is just a reminder that many times prescription drug abuse enforcement is thought of as a luxury, and not a necessity, for law enforcement agencies. This seems to be archaic thinking, with abuse and overdose death statistics in most states showing that the abuse of prescription drugs is increasingly responsible for the destruction of human lives. Unless prevention programs are solidified by government grants, they too can be put on the chopping block and become a thing of the past. Recouping these programs after they have been abandoned is usually a difficult task, as other programs fight for the limited funds available. The worry is that the bad economy only increases substance abuse, but the weapons to fight it tend to be reduced, which only exacerbates the problem.
After more than 42 years in law enforcement, I have seen the rise and fall of the economy have an effect on all 3 of these essential drug-fighting programs. Somehow, we must try to do more with less in all these fields. Law enforcement must hope we can still make a difference while we weather the valleys, knowing that the peaks will eventually come. PT
Resources For Prescription Drug Abuse Treatment and Prevention
National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators
National Family Partnership
Parents. The Anti-Drug
The Partnership for a Drug-Free America
Zero Unintentional Deaths
Cmdr Burke is commander of the Warren County, Ohio, drug task force and retired commander of the Cincinnati Police Pharmaceutical Diversion Squad. Cmdr Burke is a 40-year veteran of law enforcement and the current president of the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, via the Web site www.rxdiversion.com, or by phone at 513-336-0070.
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