It’s fairly common knowledge that Utah is top among prescription drug abuse in the U.S. But just how bad is it?
A study conducted by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that Utah led the U.S. in the nonmedical use (abuse) of prescription drugs in 2004 and 2005, with 6.5 percent of the population using drugs without a doctor’s order. Further, the study indicated a troubling trend of prescription painkiller use by kids in junior high and high school. Weber-Morgan Narcotics Strike Force agent Randy Lythgoe said “it’s becoming an accepted thing to do in high school, because they (students) don’t associate danger with it” when he was interviewed in 2006 by the Desert News. The U.S. study showed 7.88 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds and 13.49 percent of 18- to 25-year-olds used prescription painkillers for nonmedical reasons. The number was just 4.32 percent for those over age 25. Some young people take drugs from the prescriptions of family members or buy them on the street, where drugs like Lortab sell for $3 to $5 per pill. Others may be “doctor shopping,” seeing multiple physicians to obtain multiple prescriptions.
The number of Utahns dying from prescription drug overdoses is on the rise as well, said Christy Porucznik, an epidemiologist at the Utah Department of Health (Deseret News, 2006). Per capita, Utah has one of the highest rates in the country. In fact, as indicated by Porucznik, in 2005 prescription drug overdoses accounted for more than twice the number of deaths from illegal drugs, although some had obtained the prescription drugs illegally. Data from the U.S. Department of Health Study in 2006 indicated that 20 percent of overdoses were caused by prescribable painkillers.
Also, a fallacy exists about what kind of an individual most prescription drug abusers are. Porucznik described the average Utahn who dies from a drug overdose as “40 years old, overweight and taking a prescription drug.” Interesting enough, “people have the idea that it is people who are not part of (mainstream) society, but it is,” she said. Interestingly, data also shows Utah’s retail supply of prescription painkillers is higher than the U.S. average. Further, a study released by the Utah Department of Health (2010) highlights financial problems, a history of previous substance abuse and mental health concerns with the 432 drug overdose deaths. Among the valuable recommendations of the study is that doctors who prescribe pain medication need to have a greater awareness of the risk factors involved with prescribing medications as well as being aware of the general characteristics of prescription drug abusers.
To illustrate just how easy it may be for individuals with no history of substance abuse to begin to crave prescription drugs, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurleff writes candidly on the site http://www.drugfree.org/join-together/addiction/prescription-drug-abuse-unique-challenge-for-law-enforcement. View this page to read his story of his realization of the addictive tendencies of prescription painkillers. Also, he discusses the difficulty in enforcing laws and regulations with the growing problem of prescription drug abuse in Utah.