The recent death of Michael Jackson has served to highlight many things that should be addressed in American society: child abuse, mental illness and drug abuse to name a few. This is not to say that Jackson suffered from any of these maladies, but some of the circumstances in his life and death served as a catalyst to allow discussion of these critical issues. For instance, Jackson’s family and close friends speculate that his death was caused by possible prescription drug abuse of painkillers, anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications.
According to a recent article by Jill Harris, Managing Director of Public Policy at the Drug Policy Alliance,’…deaths from drug overdoses have been rising and have reached crisis levels in our country. A newly-released report by the Drug Policy Alliance documents the extent of the problem: drug overdose is now the second-leading cause of accidental death in America, surpassing firearms-related deaths. And it's not just young people who are dying of overdoses: overdose is the number-one injury-related killer among adults aged 35-54.”
Also of note, this crisis isn't only about illegal drugs, the greatest number of people dying from accidental overdose are those who use legal prescription drugs (typically painkillers called opioids) which can include both opium-derived drugs like morphine and codeine, and synthetics like Percodan, Percoset, Oxycontin and Vicodin. These drugs are also those most often used by young people to get high. According to the U.S. government’s Office of National Drug Control Policy, prescription painkillers rank second behind marijuana as the nation’s most common illegal drug problem. And in 2005, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reported that 48 million Americans aged 12 and older (or 20 percent of the U.S. population) have used prescription drugs for non-medical reasons in their lifetimes.
Now, where do you fit into this equation? By not taking drugs as prescribed by your doctor, not monitoring the whereabouts of these drugs in your home, not storing them properly, and not disposing of them properly and in a timely manner. Following are a few things you can do.
- Safeguard all prescription medications in the
household. Remove them from the medicine
cabinet and place them out of reach of children
- When a family member receives a prescription,
ask the doctor or pharmacist if the medication
has the potential for abuse. Keep control of
- If your child must take a prescription during
school hours, arrange for them to receive it from
the school nurse. Make sure that all unused
medication is returned to you.
- Ask the pharmacist how to safely dispose
of unused medications. Do not flush them down the toilet! The US EPA has deemed flushing expired medications-otherwise known as PPCPs (pharmaceuticals and personal care products) in domestic sewage systems as the "least desirable way to dispose of any drug." According to the EPA, "If you throw your PPCPs down the drain or flush them down the toilet, and if your home is connected to a municipal sewage system, some of the PPCPs would typically be discharged into lakes, rivers, or oceans, because most waste water treatment plants are not designed to remove or destroy PPCPs from wastewater." Several studies by various municipalities have confirmed that domestic septic systems (water treatment plants) do not destroy or remove PPCPs.