Starting at your Own Medicine Cabinet to Prevent Addiction

Posted on 01/18/16 02:33:pm

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An article(link is external) published by New York University(link is external) discusses recent research that found an increase in the number of American high school seniors who abuse prescription opioids, or drugs that your doctor may prescribe to relieve pain. The study also found that for many of those students, their prescription drug abuse put them at increased risk of transitioning to heroin. The article explains that teens may begin using prescription opioids because they are relatively easy to access at home. Despite this study’s findings, Ian Powell, MD, addiction specialist, says that Rogers Memorial Hospital–West Allis is not currently experiencing this significant increase in adolescent opioid addiction.

“As is often the case, by the time a study’s research is published, that data is usually about two years old already,” says Dr. Powell. “We are not currently seeing a large population of young patients in our withdrawal management program and intensive outpatient program that started out using prescription opioids,” says Dr. Powell. “Instead, we have seen a population of adolescents that have transitioned straight to heroin. In many ways the problem is already here, but we aren’t seeing the specific pattern that the article suggests for a number of reasons.”

Dr. Powell explains that the number of doctors and dentists who are educated about prescription drug abuse is growing, as is the available technology to help decrease drug abuse. “The Wisconsin Prescription Drug Monitoring Program(link is external), for example, is a tool that practitioners in Wisconsin can use to monitor the drugs their patients are receiving from other doctors,” says Dr. Powell. “It makes it easier for practitioners to share information across the state and will help reduce the current 30 to 40 percent of adults and teens in Wisconsin who use prescription opioids and transition to heroin.”

So what can parents do to help prevent this problem? “You should make it a habit to throw out your or your child’s pain prescriptions when the injury has healed,” says Dr. Powell. “Saving your medications because you think you might need them later only increases the risk that you or someone else in your household may abuse the prescription.”

Dr. Powell also offers advice from the provider’s perspective. “Our primary goal, as physicians, is to relieve our patients’ pain—whether it be physical, mental or emotional,” he says. “But we do have to be aware of these dangers and take the appropriate actions to reduce widespread addiction.”

People seeking addiction services may not always suffer from addiction alone. Sometimes, a person with a metal illness uses drugs or alcohol to cope with their mental illness and develop an addiction—this is called dual diagnosis or co-occurring disorders. Amy Kuechler, PhD, attending psychologist at Rogers Memorial Hospital–Brown Deer, explains that although there is no single reason why a person develops co-occurring disorders, those with mental illness are more susceptible to developing a substance use disorder. “One reason for the increased risk is because substances may be used as a way to cope or attempt to manage the symptoms of the mental illness,” she says.

At Rogers’ Brown Deer campus, the most common drugs used among the adolescent patients with a dual diagnosis are synthetic marijuana and cough medicine because they are fairly easy to obtain. “In our treatment center, we have treated limited cases of heroin use, because many of our patients were still abusing opiate pain medication when they reached out for treatment and had not progressed to heroin,” says Dr. Kuechler. “But, that doesn’t mean other treatment centers aren’t experiencing an increase.”

When someone has a dual diagnosis, it’s important that their conditions are treated at the same time, such as Rogers does. “One of the main reasons we treat both substance use disorders and mood disorders concurrently is because they really are contributing factors to one another, so to only treat one disorder could result in an increase of symptoms for the other disorder,” says Dr. Kuechler. 

“Rogers Memorial Hospital–Brown Deer offers one of the only dual diagnosis partial hospitalization programs for adolescents available in southeastern Wisconsin, as well as an intensive outpatient program for dual diagnosis,” she says. “In addition to helping patients, these programs emphasize family support and education for their child’s treatment, because dual diagnosis is not only a patient concern—it is a family system issue.”

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