In the Appalachia region, prescription drug abuse has become a major concern for health care providers as well as law enforcement officials. The area has recorded high rates of prescription drug overdoses. The numbers of prescription drug abuse are staggering: South West Virginia accounted for 40% of drug related overdoses and 248 people died from overdoses in 2006 in the area, which exceeds the number of people who died from house fires, homicides, and alcohol related car accidents combined (Recovery Outreach Center 4). The abuse of prescription drugs has resulted from their availability and the allure of making quick money, which enables easy distribution of the drugs. Most of the drugs are also legal, and thus it is hard to prosecute people that sell them. Prescription is easily accessible to the users as well. The innate cultural characteristics of the region lead to sharing of prescription drugs, which can be explained by the natural desire to assist a neighbor in pain. According to the DEA fact Sheet, very little stigma is associated with the use of prescription drugs in the region and this is one of the reasons for the abuse.
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The National Drug Intelligence Center attributed the abuse to the Appalachian economy which is still heavily reliant on coal mining. The camp doctors usually give the coal miners painkillers to keep them working. Self-medicating became a way of life often leading to addiction and abuse. There are increased rates of occupational injuries among the jobs available in the region and this has led to high usage of pain killers, thus increasing social acceptability of substance abuse to treat anxiety and pain, as well as blurring the line between substance use and substance abuse.
The prescription drugs mostly abused in the Appalachia region are OxyContin, Vicodin, Lortab, and Methadone. People abuse drugs because the need to manage different sorts of pain has increased gradually. Additionally, most of the areas in the region are rural and poverty-stricken, and the potential profit which results from the illicit sale of the drugs has contributed to their diversion and abuse. The region also has many miners with injuries and a shortage of doctors and thus prescription of drugs, such as OxyContin, has been indiscriminate and this has created a diversion to the black market (Abadinsky 19). In the region, overprescribing has led to conviction of numerous doctors. People mostly buy Methadone, often prescribed for treating chronic pain, in the black market and recreational drug users access the drug via this market, too (Abadinsky 19).
Prescription drug abuse poses problems for the communities, families, workforce, healthcare, and economy. It has posed a problem for the community because it has led to its struggle with drug addiction. This has in turn threatened its economy, education system, and families. It has transcended the social and economic barriers; it is in the neighborhoods, in the schools; it lives across the street and drives on the same roads (Recovery Outreach Center 1). Generally, it has caused detrimental effects on all institutions in the community, such as the family and school. The abuse also increases crime rates in the society. Drug abusers regularly commit offenses, such as swindle, burglary, retail fraud, and robbery to find drugs or cash for buying the drugs (National Drug Intelligence Center 1). This creates restlessness in the community and prevents it from growing due to the persistent problem posed by prescription drug abuse.
Prescription drug abuse has affected families because it has resulted in death of loved family members. In South Western Virginia, drug abuse resulted in more than 2,000 deaths in a decade (Hammack 22). It has killed parents leaving children under the care of their other family members. In Tazewell County, 74% of all children aged 1-18 live with their grandparents in their homes, while 59% of all the children live exclusively with their grandparents (Recovery Outreach Center 7). Some parents have neglected their children leaving them on their own; they thus fail in providing proper and needed guidance to their children, especially when they are growing. Most teenagers who grow up in homes where the parent(s) abuse prescription drugs have a high tendency of developing addiction problems as their households are more lenient on drug use. The problem also causes marital problems and disrupts family life creating destructive patterns of codependency. The problem has also affected other members of the family. In Appalachian County, almost 1 in 10 babies who were born in 2010 tested positive for drugs (Sabrina 3). In January 2011, the police apprehended several juniors including a seventh-grader with painkillers in the same county. This shows that the problem has affected all the members of the family, even the ones who are being born. The problem also reduces the family finances because it requires additional spending on rehab programs and legal fees for the parents or children who are abusing the drugs.
Prescription drug abuse has also affected the region’s workforce by reducing the number of productive workers, which has in turn led to lack of development in the region. Drug tests have dramatically reduced the number of job applicants in South West Virginia (Hammack 1). Eleven people had applied for a job with a small Southwest Virginia business, but when informed that they had to undergo a drug test, five walked away. The five who remained did not pass the test and this just left one drug-free applicant to fill the position. This shows the extent to which drug abuse affects the workforce. It also removes the workers from their positions because the problem does not allow them to carry out their roles appropriately. Charlie Lawson, a businessperson in Richlands, had gone through 65 men for approximately six positions; most of these turnovers resulted from alcohol and drug abuse (Recovery Outreach Center 5).
Prescribed drug abuse also affects the health care system by increasing its expenditures. Drug abuse adds millions to health care costs through drug abuse treatment and prevention costs as well as other health care costs. In Ohio, the problem is so severe that the Governor set aside $36 million in new spending to deal with the problem (Sabrina 5). In 2006/2007, Tazewell county spent $2,560,158 on children, foster care and family rehabilitative services for family and individuals (Recovery Outreach Center 13). Prescriptive also has an effect on economics. Drug abuse has led to the government spending a lot of money that should otherwise cover other useful channels. It has also led to reduced economic development for the region because drugs have reduced the productive workforce capacity.
South West Virginia can address the problem of prescription drug abuse by reducing their accessibility. People abuse prescription drugs because they are easily accessible, inexpensive, or free. There is a need for tight legislations in the region to ensure that people access the prescription drugs only when there are in dire need. Most of the children who abuse drugs acquire them from their relatives or friends, with or without their knowledge. Parents should secure the prescriptions to limit their accessibility to teenagers.
Educating drug users and abusers can also address this problem. This would entail training on responsible drug use. The government should facilitate public education campaigns on responsible drug use by especially targeting parents. Effective Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PMDP) should be encouraged to curb the unrestricted access to drugs by people in the region. The government should also hire more medical practitioners to ensure they cater for the needs of all patients and to ensure that people do not end up buying drugs in the black market. The medical practitioners should also be educated on safe use of prescription drugs. Strengthening prescription drug monitoring programs can also reduce prescribed drug abuse-related cases. The region can also solve the problem through enforcement efforts for reducing doctor shopping and prevalence of pill mills. The region should also put in place strategies for ensuring that people do not access medications from the drugs black market.
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