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Prescription medications: A growing trend of abuse

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- As a pharmacist for over 28 years, I have witnessed the incredible value medications bring to the treatment, and sometimes cure, of a multitude of ailments and disease. Although they have improved the quality of life for millions of people, their use is certainly not without risk, as attested to by the litany of side effects reported in "speed reading" fashion during each pharmaceutical advertisement. I'd like to highlight an equally concerning reality regarding medication use -- their fast expanding misuse and/or abuse.

Would you believe that prescription medication abuse is the fastest growing drug problem in the United States? Prescription medications are now second only to marijuana as the "gateway" of drugs first abused. Alarmingly, six of the top 10 abused substances among high school students are prescription drugs.

How is the military affected? Although not as widespread, the DoD trend follows the same national concern. The Department of Defense Health Behaviors Survey indicates the self-reported misuse of pain medications for non-medical purposes by all service members has increased from 2 percent in 2002 to 17 percent in 2008.

I recently attended a commanders' educational briefing on substance abuse provided by security forces, the Office of Special Investigations and the Alaska State Troopers narcotics division. It was an eye-opening reminder that this problem is not foreign to Interior Alaska or even our local Eielson community. As members of an organization founded on the principles of honesty, service and excellence, we all should be looking to be participants of a solution. As it is with most complex problems, their solutions are also usually multifaceted.

What is the DoD doing about prescription medication abuse? It begins with awareness, which is why I chose this topic for today's article.

Deterrence is the cornerstone of military practice and thus serves as the foundation for the Drug Demand Reduction or drug testing program. The DoD is expanding the drug testing protocols currently in place to include abused prescription drugs effective May 1. The testing procedures won't change for military and authorized civilians at the test collection sites, but there will be more drugs included in the screening process.

As a reminder, prescription medications should only be taken for the purposes and at the dose and frequency prescribed. Additionally, never take a medication prescribed to someone else. Doing so may have negative health consequences and may also violate the Uniformed Code of Military Justice. Also, I encourage you to dispose of prescription medications once they are no longer needed for their prescribed purpose, especially pain medications.

Although the Drug Enforcement Administration prohibits pharmacies from taking back controlled substances, the 354th Medical Group is coordinating with law enforcement and the DEA for a "drug take back day" to help facilitate the disposal of these medications on April 28 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Base Exchange entrance.

I am pleased and honored to be part of a military health system which includes the use of medications that continues to help so many people improve their quality of life. I am responsible and challenged to play an active role in ensuring that medication use follows the safest of practice standards. Please join me in that goal. We are all a part of the solution.

For additional information on appropriate prescription drug disposal, please consult the 354th MDG pharmacy at 377-1461 or visit http://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm101653.htm.