Pill Popping Nation? America’s Growing Addiction

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A grim reminder of America's growing prescription drug problem took place last month when a robber walked into a Long Island, N.Y., drug store and murdered four people inside.

He didn't take any money. He did, however, take every pain killer in the store -- about 10,000 of them. 

Pat Tacetta, the heartbroken mother of one of the victims, stood outside the pharmacy and sobbed.

"There was no reason to shoot them. He took away four lives," she said. "He took away a young girl. He took away my daughter who has two girls, and she was going to get married. She was happy. There's no reason for this."
  
Three days after the quadruple homicide, police arrested suspect David Laffer and his wife, who allegedly drove the getaway car.

Police say the two were high on prescription drugs at the time of their arrest.

More than Addiction
   
Recent statistics show drug store robberies are up 81 percent in the last five years.

That figure mirrors the growth in prescription drug abuse, with pain killers like vicodin, oxycontin and valium becoming the second most abused drugs, behind marijuana.
    
People often become addicted to pain killers when they take them for legitimate reasons, such as surgery. The drugs make patients feel euphoric, leading them to want that feeling more.

Withdrawals can be unpleasant, making it hard to quit.
    
Pain relief is big business in the U.S. with Americans gobbling up most of the world's supply.

The bigger problem? A whopping 70 percent of pain killers are taken by someone other than the person whose name is on the prescription. 
    
Congress is hoping to address the issue by considering tougher regulations that would make it harder for people to get drugs from different doctors and pharmacies that don't communicate with each other. 

Lawmakers could also reclassify some pain killers, making them more difficult to prescribe. Stricter penalties could also be imposed on doctors who write illegal prescriptions and for people who steal the drugs.
 
Young 'Pharm Partiers'
  
Kids are using the drugs in alarming numbers, according to U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency agent Ava Cooper-Davis.

"One third of teens believe there's nothing wrong with using prescription drugs, which are not meant for them, every once and a while. That's a problem," she said.
  
One teen who has taken pain killers for recreational purposes describes it this way.

"It kind of slows everything down, makes you not feel as much," the unnamed teen told CBN News. "It feels like almost nothing can hurt you, like what's going on in reality can't affect you."

Another young person said pain killers lessen emotional pain. A second teen said her classmates who take pain killers, "Just want to hide from their problems, so they take the pills."
    
According to the DEA., prescription drug parties are a frightening fad.
    
"When they walk through the front door, everybody puts in a fish bowl whatever pills they have accumulated in the course of time," Cooper-Davis explained.

"During the night they take a handful of pills, drink alcohol behind it, and unfortunately some of them overdose. Sadly, some of them go to sleep and never wake up," she said.

They're called "pharm parties," and many of the drugs come from regular homes. Kids often raid their parents' medicine cabinet.

To prevent this from happening, parents are recommended to keep current prescriptions in a secure place and to get rid of those no longer being used.

'Pharma-Water?'

Expired prescriptions can also be dangerous.
    
"You just can't guarantee what it's going to do to you and you don't know how it's going to affect your body," pharmacist Candace Carrino said.

"You don't know how it's going to affect the other medications you might be taking," she said.
    
There is a proper way to get rid of old, unused drugs.
    
"Our problem is folks don't know what to do with all the medicines sitting in their cabinets," explained Ten Henifin, general manager for the Hampton Roads Sanitation District in Virginia Beach, Va.

"Often doctors have told them to just dump it into the toilet (and) flush it away. That way it's no longer a danger for them or for someone getting into it," he said.

"But no one thought through where does it go after that," Henifin added.
    
Unfortunately, it goes into a wastewater treatment plant that's not designed to get the drugs out of the water.

In fact, scientists have detected high levels of pharmaceutical compounds in some drinking water sources.

Drug Disposals

Throwing drugs in the garbage also harms the environment because they ultimately end up in landfills. 
    
The safest route is to drop off unused drugs at a "take back" event held by the DEA and local police departments throughout the year.
    
Cooper-David said her division has collection more than 18,500 pounds of prescription drugs.
   
Another safe method of disposal is to send pills to a drug disposal company. Local pharmacies can provide kits with prepaid postage.
  
So while law enforcement and Washington try to reduce the prescription drug abuse epidemic, there are steps that can be taken now to stop a potential problem before it starts.

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Lorie  Johnson

Lorie Johnson

CBN News Medical Reporter

Lorie Johnson reports on the latest information about health and wellness. Since medicine is constantly changing, she makes sure CBN News viewers are up-to-date on what they need to know in order to live a healthy life.  Follow Lorie on Twitter @LorieCBN and "like" her at Facebook.com/LorieJohnsonCBN.