INDIANAPOLIS – While news of celebrity deaths and arrests related to drug abuse may seem like isolated events, the dramatic increase of opiate addiction is a widespread epidemic to which Hoosiers are not immune. May is Mental Health Month, which provides an opportunity to focus on this epidemic and raise awareness of addiction and its impact on our communities.
According to a 2013 report, Prescription Drug Abuse: Strategies to Stop the Epidemic, the number of drug overdose deaths in Indiana, a majority of which were from prescription drugs, have quadrupled since 1999, an increase larger than all but three states.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that seven million Americans are currently abusing prescription drugs, which is more than the number of cocaine, heroin, hallucinogen, and inhalant users combined. While prescription drugs offer legitimate relief to millions of people every year, their abuse is becoming epidemic among Hoosiers. According to the Indiana State Department of Health, 654 Indiana residents died from accidental drug overdoses in 2010, and evidence shows this number is increasing.
Opiates are a class of drug that includes heroin, vicodin, oxycodone, and morphine. All age groups are vulnerable to addiction and many people become addicted while taking legally prescribed medications. They then turn to alternate sources of opiates, such as heroin, when their prescriptions expire. Users never know the potency of heroin purchased on the street, and overdose is common. The Indiana College Substance Abuse Survey indicated that Indiana college students use heroin at four times the national rate. The Youth Risk Behavior Survey determined that, out of 35 states surveyed, Indiana high school students ranked second highest for teens taking prescription drugs illegally.
Some people are at greater risk for substance abuse, including those with a family history of addiction, early onset of drug use, mental illness, or traumatic experiences during childhood. Because users develop a tolerance to the effects, persons abusing opiates may not appear intoxicated. Warning signs of opiate abuse include constricted pupils, drowsiness, or signs of physical withdrawal such as sweating, nausea, muscles cramps, or diarrhea. Other warning signs include depression, confusion, mood swings, changes in sleep patterns, stealing, forging or selling prescriptions, or seeking prescriptions from more than one medical provider.