Skip to main content
Sign In

University of Colorado Denver

​​​​​​​​​ ​
 

Community Newsroom

The Other Drug Problem: Right in Our Own Medicine Cabinets


Opinion piece that appeared 12/25/2013 in the Denver Post

Generally, Colorado and the nation are making progress in reducing illicit drug abuse among teens. But there's one big exception – nonmedical use of prescription drugs.

Did you know that every day in this country 2,500 teens abuse a prescription drug for the first time?  That one in five teens, or 4.5 million young people, have abused prescription drugs? That more people, teens and others, die from prescription drug overdoses than from either motor vehicle accidents or overdoses of illicit drugs such as cocaine and heroin?

Colorado is trying to do something about that. But first, let's understand the scope and roots of this problem.  While illicit drug use by teens is dropping – by 18 percent from 2002-2012 according to a federal survey – teens still are commonly abusing painkillers,  depressants, such as sleeping pills or anti-anxiety drugs and stimulants, mainly prescribed to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Locally, that same federal survey found nonmedical use of opioid painkillers is growing rapidly, and Colorado ranks #2 nationally for nonmedical use among youth aged 12-25. Prescription drug abuse can become a lifelong problem with grave consequences—youth may drop out of school, adults lose jobs, families suffer irreparable losses, and the problem comes with staggering costs for treating drug addiction, and criminal justice functions of policing, prosecution, incarceration, and probation.

Why is this happening?  There are many reasons.  Teens report using prescription medications as an acceptable and safer alternative to illicit drug use, second only to marijuana.  We live in a society where there's 'a pill for every ill.' When we go to the doctor, in seven out of ten visits we leave with a prescription.

Prescription drugs are easy to get.  Fifty-six percent of people who use prescription medications non-medically say they obtain these drugs from friends and relatives, meaning that these drugs are freely shared or taken from medicine cabinets or other accessible places. 

So how do we protect the rights of those who need these medications for legitimate reasons while also preventing their abuse? First, by sounding the alarm to parents, grandparents, and adult caregivers that prescription drugs are powerful medicines and need to be treated with care.   November 17-23 was Prescription Drug Abuse Awareness Week in Colorado and featured a Town Hall Meeting and discussion on Prescription Drug Abuse among Youth, held at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora, sponsored by the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America and Peer Assistance Services, Inc., and broadcast to eleven community sites across the state.   

Second, we must respond collectively as a state to create a bottom-up, cooperative response to the problem by drawing from the many agencies, task forces, and programs already in place—such as the Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention programs of the Colorado Department of Human Services Office of Behavioral Health, and the Violence and Injury Prevention programs of the Colorado Department of Public Health.  Over the past year, Governor John Hickenlooper and his staff enlisted the advice and expertise of medical professionals, state agencies, and those in the prevention, treatment, education, and law enforcement communities to develop the Colorado Plan to Reduce Prescription Drug Abuse, with the goal of preventing 92,000 Coloradans from abusing opioids by 2016. 

The Governor has also formed the Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention, a statewide collaboration of state agencies, universities, and the above named constituent communities.  The Colorado Consortium was recently made a subcommittee of the state's Substance Abuse Trend and Response Task Force, a legislatively authorized committee chaired by Attorney General John Suthers that identifies and responds to substance abuse issues.

We are building one of the most comprehensive, coordinated approaches in the nation, and are 'rolling up our sleeves' to create collaborations and initiatives in several key areas:   public awareness, health care provider education, treatment, safe medication disposal, and improved data systems for monitoring controlled substance prescribing and use and the extent and impact of the prescription drug abuse problem.  Meanwhile, Coloradans can help protect their teens and families immediately by asking their doctors to prescribe only what they absolutely need, locking up their medications, monitoring medication quantities and learning how to properly dispose of medications. Working together, we can and will solve this problem and make Colorado the healthiest state in the nation.

Sincerely,


Robert Valuck, PhD, RPh
Professor of Pharmacy, University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences; and Coordinating Center Director, Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention

Laurie Lovedale, MPH
Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Program Coordinator, Peer Assistance Services, Inc.;  and Coordinating Committee Member, Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention

Carol Runyan, MPH, PhD
Professor, Epidemiology and Community & Behavioral Health, Colorado School of Public Health and Director, Pediatric Injury Prevention, Education and Research (PIPER) Program;  and
Co-Chair, Public Awareness Work Group, Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention

Jason Hoppe, DO
Assistant Professor, Department of Emergency Medicine, University of Colorado School of Medicine;  and Co-Chair, Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) Work Group, Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention

Lee Newman, MD, MA
Professor, Colorado School of Public Health and School of Medicine, University of Colorado; Director, Center for Worker Health and Environment; and Co-Chair, Provider Education Work Group, Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention

Sunny Linnebur, PharmD
Associate Professor of Pharmacy, University of Colorado Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences;  and Co-Chair, Safe Disposal Work Group, Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention

Helen Kaupang
Diversion Group Supervisor, Denver Division, Office, United States Drug Enforcement Administration;  and Coordinating Committee Member, Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention

Jose Esquibel
Director, Interagency Prevention Systems for Children and Youth, Office of Children Youth and Families, Colorado Department of Human Services;  Coordinating Committee Member, Colorado Consortium for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention;  and Vice Chair for Prevention, Colorado Substance Abuse Trend and Response Task Force

John W. Hickenlooper, Governor

John Suthers
Colorado Attorney General and Chair of the Colorado Substance Abuse Trend and Response Task Force