We suspect, at least we hope, some of the information revealed was eye-opening for readers, because it certainly was for us. We also hope individuals and agencies within our community will take proactive steps to combat the problem.
Oftentimes when people hear the phrase drug abuse, one conjures the image of some strung-out junkie, high on cocaine or methamphetamine. Those drugs serve no real purpose other than to harm, and the entire drug culture built around those substances is one conceived in crime.
Not so with prescription drugs. Codeine and hydrocodone are examples of two drugs which are often prescribed, legitimately, for pain. Anyone who has had a significant injury, is recovering from surgery, or has even had certain forms of dental work done has probably taken these drugs.
While physicians and others in the medical community are careful when prescribing these painkillers, they are addictive, and someone can develop a dependency on them even during legitimate use.
Matthew Moxley, a young man who lived in Alleghany County, whose uncle lives in Pilot Mountain, was an example of such a person. He suffered a sports injury, and through the use of medication designed to manage his pain while he was recovering, became addicted. Tragically, that addiction brought about his death, four years ago, at the age of 25.
His younger brother, Brandon, died earlier this year of an accidental overdose of similar drugs. He was 26 at the time. Brandon was introduced to prescription drug abuse through recreational use — his family believes peer pressure from his friends led him to try, and then become addicted, to the substances.
Brandon, in all likelihood, was exposed to the drugs because of how easy it is for young people to get their hands on the substances. His family also believes that while he might have realized he had a problem, he was too proud to admit it.
This illustrates one of the steps we must take in combating the widespread problem of prescription drug abuse — removing the stigmatism associated with drug abuse.
Anyone is susceptible to falling victim to drug addiction. Don’t believe so? How many of you have used some sort of drug to help you fall asleep at some point in your life? What about cold medicines that relieve the symptoms of your sickness and also aid in sleep. Ever been tempted, long after the illness or condition which prompted their use has been cured, to use any of those on those nights when sleep won’t come? For some, that is the first step toward addiction.
It is easy, and seemingly innocent, to begin misusing these drugs. As a community we need to realize this and extend nonjudgmental help to those who fall into such addictions. Doing so may, eventually, remove most of the unwarranted shame people feel in needing to admit to a problem.
Second, we need more participation among physicians in using a statewide database of controlled substance abuse prescriptions. This database includes all controlled substance prescriptions filled by North Carolina pharmacists. At present, doctors are not required to consult this database when prescribing drugs. While we are hesitant to suggest more governmental regulation — and thus more work on people in the private sector — if most physicians do not voluntarily use this database this step is something legislators might consider.
Third, each private individual has a role to play. If you have used one of these drugs, following a prescribed course of action by a physician, and you have some left over after use, dispose of them. Leaving them lying around invites trouble. Anyone not sure of the proper disposal method should contact law enforcement, as suggested by Dobson Police Chief Shawn Myers. Most agencies know how to properly dispose of these medications and will gladly do so.
There are additional steps which could be taken, both by legislators, the medical community and private individuals. But we suspect these three steps would go a long way toward lessening the problem of prescription drug abuse in North Carolina.